James Steinle - What I Came Here For
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What I Came Here For (Shotgun House, 2020)

James Steinle

Reviewed by Jim Hynes

James Steinle is an emerging Texas singer-songwriter, who is already being hailed by Ray Wylie Hubbard and compared to story telling greats like Robert Earl Keen. Given that Bruce Robison produced "What I Came Here For" speaks volumes about Steinle's ability to impress, but there's more. He was one of the winners of the 2017 Kerrville Folk Festival's University Singer/Songwriter Contest. He released his debut, "South Texas Homecoming," in 2018 to much acclaim and later followed with a live record, "Live at Hole In the Wall." But this is his strongest achievement to date, richly deep in character sketches, autobiographical and third person narratives that paint an authentic picture of life in South Texas, mostly centered on a man named Jimmy, a pseudo-grandfather to Steinle.

His wide lens is due to his nomadic past. Born in South Texas, he spent his childhood in Saudi Arabia and Germany. He's now based in Austin, where his unique worldview can be put to songs delivered by some of Austin's best studio musicians as heard here with the likes of Geoff Queen, Rich Brotherton and Jamie Lin Wilson, among others.

The rowdy opener "Black & White Blues" recedes into the spoken intro to the half-spoken title track that follows, an effort to relieve oneself wallowing in despair. The female voice is that of Juliet McConkey, who is also the co-writer on "In Love Again (Two Different Voices)," and adds backing vocals on the rest of the album. A standout track is the banjo-driven "Without You," chock full of Texas images like dirty windshields and dry wells. "Blue Collar Martyr," with its fuzzy build and sinister vibe, is an ode to blue-collar workers who are losing jobs to automation. Narrated by a factory worker, who realized his impending fate, it's indicative of Steinle's stance. "These songs are all about coping...with contemporary urban climates, and the homogenization of culture," he says. "This is a thread that runs all over the world, and it weighs heavily on me. How we're stripping places of what made them what they are in the first place."

Steinle is a gifted storyteller with a wealth of vision and perspective for one still in his 20s. He demonstrates an authentic natural feel for Texas music.

CDs by James Steinle

What I Came Here For, 2020

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