From the gust of groove-laden swing that comes at us in “I Am a Cowboy Y’all” to the colorful twister of melodies in “The King of Western Swing,” Carlos Washington’s Steel Horse Swing is getting back to basics in the all-new LP Little Bit of Texas, and for those of us who prefer the stripped-down tonality of a classic western rhythm over the plasticized sounds of modern Nashville, it’s a record that is awfully hard to put down once it’s been picked up for the first time. Washington bucks the trend of surreal country composing in the title track, string-savvy “Sugar Moon” and lush “Miss Molly” in favor of exploring an aspect of American songcraft that has been long neglected by some of country music’s most lauded stalwarts. Despite the unconventional stylizations of the material in this album (only when examined through the lens of a contemporary country model), there isn’t a single song on Little Bit of Texas that doesn’t have the potential to get stuck in your head, which is a lot more than I can say about a lot of the biggest chart-toppers in or outside of the Nashville scene this year.

Production-wise, Little Bit of Texas is a really crisp, well-organized LP, but in all reality I don’t know how much help songs like “House of Blue Lights” and “I Can Still Make Cheyenne” needed from the master mix; honestly, they’ve got so many natural charms that are left untouched in the big picture here that adding any extra bells and whistles would have made both tracks overwhelming, and thus far less accessible to casual listeners and hardcore country fans alike. The string play contributes enormously to the swing of “My Little Red Wagon” and “It Was Love at First Swing,” and frankly I think that the interplay between the guitar parts and the vocal in these two songs is some of the best you’re going to hear in a country album this season, mainstream or not. “I’m Coming Home” and “Sugar Moon” have an underlying emotionality that I can see coming to life with a lot more oomph in a live setting, which I’m hoping to confirm for myself before 2020 expires.

I hadn’t heard his work before now, but I think it’s safe to say that Carlos Washington’s Steel Horse Swing is offering up the best bet in independent country music this spring in Little Bit of Texas, and regardless of your interest in the genre, I would highly recommend giving it a close listen. Washington takes to the spotlight like an old soul who was always meant to make red, white and blue grooves for a living here, and if he can refine his style of play to follow this same formula in future recordings, I think he’s going to find himself quite the welcoming audience as the decade comes into focus. He’s got a lot of raw talent, and it’s being put to great use in this fun exhibition in country rhythm and rhyme.

Garth Thomas