From the moment that the guitar chimes through the silence at the start of “My Little Red Wagon” to the second the song’s golden harmony disappears to make way for another slab of country grit awaiting us elsewhere in the tracklist of Little Bit of Texas, Carlos Washington’s Steel Horse Swing is sounding large, in charge and ready to take their place within the hierarchy of elite country up and comers. Little Bit of Texas is a wide-ranging effort for Washington and his band of roughriding melody-makers; the crew tackles supple balladic framework in “I’m Coming Home” as seamlessly as they sway to a flamboyant rhythm in “Miss Molly,” and even in fairly experimental moments – such as the crossover treat “House of Blue Lights” – they never stray too far from a singular formula for making melodic country anthems. Indebted to the old guard in Nashville’s sense of pride and tradition, this is one LP that every country swing fan needs to be listening to in 2020.
Rhythm rules supreme in this album, and that’s apparent no matter which of its ten songs we listen to. If the swaying beat of “It Was Love at First Swing” doesn’t intoxicate your senses and draw you onto the dancefloor for a gentle dance with your lover, you can place a hefty wager that the toned groove of the title track in Little Bit of Texas will. Despite shifting from relaxed tempos in “Sugar Moon” and “I Can Still Cheyenne” to more rip-roar stylizations in “The King of Western Swing” and, to a lesser extent, “I Am a Cowboy Y’all,” the fluidity of the music here never comes into question – the exact opposite, truth be told. Whether listening to the LP from beginning to end as it was arranged to be heard or cherry-picking through the different tracks, there’s a cohesiveness to Little Bit of Texas that I haven’t been able to locate in some of country’s most talked-about records in 2020, and for audiophiles, that’s what separates the good releases from the great ones.
It’s still a little early in the game to tell, but if Carlos Washington’s Steel Horse Swing stays on the creative trajectory they’re on in Little Bit of Texas, I think this act – and more importantly, the singer/songwriter at the helm of its music – is going to see a lot of success in this new decade for the country genre. In every song in this album, Washington brings an A-game to the studio that is refreshing to hear following a rather disappointing winter season for underground performers, and though he’s not exactly reinventing the wheel with any of the material he’s presenting here, it would be downright criminal to say that he isn’t injecting more swing and soul into the country music pulse than most anyone else in his peer group is at the moment. I’ll be keeping him on my radar for positive, and I would seriously recommend that other country fans make a point of doing the same.
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