Carlos Washington’s Steel Horse Swing might not be a household name for most Americans, but in the album Little Bit of Texas, the self-proclaimed king of western swing is rolling like he’s on top of the world – and loving every minute of it. In the songs like the record’s namesake, “The King of Western Swing,” “Sugar Moon” and “My Little Red Wagon,” swagger is as vital an ingredient as any specific instrumentation is in the Steel Horse Swing’s recipe for success, but even at his most confident, Washington never allows for his persona to devolve into the zealous pomp of arrogance sadly associated with most of today’s mainstream music, country or otherwise.
“I’m Coming Home” brings Little Bit of Texas across the finish line after nine simple yet stately rhythmic rides from the southern delta to the western desert, and though some might be quick to describe it as a stylistic throwback to an older generation of country/western music, I’m not so sure that it’s as much of an homage as it might appear to be on the surface. Much like “Sugar Moon” and “I Can Still Make Cheyenne,” “I’m Coming Home” is undeniably rooted in a classic Nashville construction, but the energy that Washington fills its verses with is anything but stale.
I would have preferred just a little more vocal presence in “Miss Molly,” “It Was Love at First Swing” and “I’m a Cowboy Y’all,” only because when Carlos Washington starts singing in these songs, it’s hard to focus on anything else transpiring beside him. The backing band is a bit louder than they need to be in this specific set of tracks, but I suppose I can appreciate Washington’s attempt at substituting collective physicality for what could have been perceived as a conceited structure in placing his velvety voice at the forefront of all the action.
Instrumentally, I think there’s as much being expressed in Little Bit of Texas to us via melody as there is the deliberate pacing of songs like “House of Blue Lights,” and “I’m Coming Home,” which to some degree aligns what Steel Horse Swing are trying to pull off here with what a lot of acts in the alternative country movement have been attempting to do. Granted, the two styles being employed couldn’t be anymore conflicting than they already are, but in spirit, I don’t think there’s a big difference between what Carlos Washington is chasing and what a lot of his more eclectic brethren in the underground are after.
Though I’m not normally the biggest country music fan in the room, it’s easy to feel like a connoisseur of the genre’s highest grade material when listening to Little Bit of Texas and the charisma that Carlos Washington’s Steel Horse Swing contributes to every one of its ten songs. This is country that anyone can approach without feeling intimidated by politicized lyrics or repetitive beats we’ve already heard a thousand other ways before, and on all counts, that isn’t something you come by very often.