If the name James Steinle (that’s pronounced Stine-lee) isn’t familiar to you, then I predict it won’t be long before it is. I had the pleasure of catching this young, Texas singer/songwriter at my favorite dive bar in Tulsa, The Mercury Lounge, on one of the last summer nights of 2019. The crowd was spotty, but it didn’t phase Steinle in the least. He took it in stride and remarked he’s played shows before with only the bartenders as an audience.
Hailing from Pleasanton, Texas, a small town south of San Antonio, you’d might be inclined to guess that this young songwriter who calls his brand of country, “county-country”, had spent his entire life there, but you’d be wrong. Spending part of his childhood living in Saudi Arabia and Germany, Steinle is crafting songs that seem way beyond his years. Pulling from the rich heritage of Texas, Steinle’s songs are laced with Spanish and heavy on the imagery one might associate with the varying landscapes of Texas. Halfway during the set, I realized that Steinle reminds me very much of Mike Harmier (lead singer of Mike and the Moonpies) and Tylor Ketchum of Tylor and the Train Robbers. It’s as if Steinle is a mixture of Mike’s looks and Texas twang and Tylor’s storytelling songs.
Steinle has already released two albums, his first, South Texas Homecoming, came out in September 2018 and in July 2019, he released his live album, Live at Hole in the Wall. (See that review here: https://americanahighways.org/2019/07/24/review-james-steinles-live-at-hole-in-the-wall-is-snapshot-of-night-of-vagabond-storytelling/)
A large number of the songs that Steinle performed on this night are also featured on these two albums, but there were a couple of newer songs that he’d been working on as well.
My favorite song of the night was “Good Life on the Plains” a song written about the times when Steinle was younger and would be hanging out with salty, old cowboys who drove him around and fed him ice cream. As a child, Steinle thought they just enjoyed hanging out with them and didn’t understand why others didn’t like these men. Then he realized as he got older, the men were using him as a reason to get out of any ranch work that might be going on that day. “Zancudo Blues” is another witty song that was included in the set. Zancudo is Spanish for mosquito. Here’s a small sampling of one of my favorite verses from the song:
And they swarmed all around me for the sweet in my blood
Like sap from a pine
Their light from above
It all but rescinded the promise of promise
If there’s really a cusp
I am truly upon it
Anyone who can write a song based about a mosquitoes and somehow make it more than that is an impressive songwriter in my book.
Also included in the set were, “The Towns Coming to Me”, “Cowboy Joe,” “Man From the Mountain,” and “Love Can Be Found in a West Texas Town.” All of these songs had stories behind them, some lengthier than others, but Steinle reels you in with his tales about old bull riders he once knew, a man who is trying to marry an oil baron’s daughter and writing a song after a storm when he got into his sister’s beer stash. The stories are relatable and they’re honest. This entire two hour set might have been one of the smaller shows I’ve been to this year, but it was such an amazing night of music. James Steinle is fantastic and I hope more people catch this unicycle riding, Texas songwriter when he’s out on the road. http://www.jamessteinle.com