James is a Texas Folk singer/songwriter from Pleasanton, Texas and is currently based in Austin, Texas. James was the winner of the 2017 Kerrville Folk Festival’s University Singer/Songwriter Contest. Following the release of his debut studio LP, “South Texas Homecoming”, in August of 2018 he garnered high praise and the record itself found its way onto numerous “Best Album’s of the Year” lists (see ‘PRESS’ tab above).
He has shared the bill and opened for fellow Americana acts such as Joe Ely, Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis, Charley Crockett, Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives, Jamie Lin Wilson, Robert Ellis, Jonny Burke, Michael Martin Murphey, Mike & The Moonpies, and Rodney Hayden.
His songs take aim at topics such as western decay, urban angst, faded love, and what he calls “typical county country” fare. His eclectic upbringing, spending large portions of his childhood in Saudi Arabia and Germany, aid in his unique worldview and subsequent song subject matter.
LIVE AT HOLE IN THE WALL
“I hold the Hole in the Wall in the highest reverence.” Songwriter James Steinle will wax poetic about the storied Austin venue for about as long as you’ll let him.
“I've always felt that finally getting a gig there was one of my milestones in my songwriting journey. It took three years. This was during a period where I’d considered giving up on trying to ‘make it’ a lot.”
But he didn’t give up. And then he booked a gig, and then a few more. Then he made a live album, simply titled Live At Hole In The Wall.
“Two of the songs on this record were on my debut LP. The remaining 12 tracks are songs I’ve written over the past couple of years. The only connection is they were written during a very specific time in my life. It’s not a reflection entirely of a person or place particularly, just an overall feeling like things are moving slow.”
James’ music is often filled with characters who live near borders and on open plains, who work cattle on hot days and visit honky tonks at night, who experience hardships and cause of a bit of a raucous from time to time. His songs are filled with perspective -- sometimes his own, sometimes that of others -- but together, shine a light on a larger picture of what life looks like for people in a place that’s often forgotten.
James’ upbringing is part of the reason he can see things from so many different angles. Born in South Texas, he spent his childhood in Saudi Arabia and Germany and had the privilege of traveling all over the world at a young age. He’s now based in Austin, where his unique worldview, the people he’s met and the places he’s seen inform the songs he writes.
Located next to The University of Texas, the Hole In The Wall has been an escape from campus and a discovery zone for new music for the last 45 years. The venue counts Lyle Lovett, Gary Clark, Jr, Spoon, and more, as local success stories, while legends including Stevie Ray Vaughan, Townes Van Zandt and Cowboy Jack Clement have all played the stage at some point or another. Their list of celebrity visitors is long and varied.
Just behind the stage sits a large picture window, where listeners can see cars driving by. Sometimes, on James’s latest, you can even hear a siren or two. For him, it’s part of what makes the place so special. It’s authenticity on display -- something that he tries to infuse into everything he writes.
Authenticity is evident in a song like “Underside,” a timely track about how suffering can easily go unnoticed in places like the US-Mexico border. It’s told through a story of a man who leaves behind everything he has, disenchanted by American life, crossing the border towards “darker designs.”
Songs like “Brush Country Bound” are sonically similar to South Texas Homecoming, drawing their inspiration from western swing and Brush Country, the geographic area southwest of San Antonio all the way to the Frontera (the border). “Cowboy Joe” also takes its inspiration from Steinle’s home, featuring a cast of characters he grew up around in South Texas.
Lighter tracks like “Reupholstering Dining Chair Blues” is exactly what it sounds like. At Steinle’s day job, where he refinishes mid-century modern furniture, he and fellow musicians Chris King and Taylor Englert (Mayeux & Broussard), tasked themselves with writing several songs related to life in the shop. Steinle’s current position is “chairman” of the “Shop Boys,” where he’s in charge of mostly refinishing and reupholstering dining chairs. “We Who Make” is also part of the “Shop Boys” collection; the abstract tune was inspired by people who create art based off old forms and history being overlooked instead of learned from.
The live version of “Where You Been,” the only serious love song on the record, features songwriter Gabe Wootton with a lively introduction that is completely unrelated to the song itself. “Good Life on the Plains” spotlights three different characters, including that of an imagined person inhabiting a wood carving.
“Three Dark Kings” is based on the Wolfgang Börchert’s poem, “Die drei dunklen Könige,” which was written in an era of German literature called Trummerliteratur, or “rubble literature.” It’s a portrait of a bleak state of art in a country working to rebuild after the fall of Nazi Germany. “Cold German Mornings” takes its inspiration from the climate James most experienced in the year he lived there, and connects the weather to a battle with a deep depression.
“Zancudo Blues” and “Town’s Coming to Me” are both from South Texas Homecoming, along with additional context. “Buying Every Round Blues” and “Lonesome Hero Blues” close the show and the album.
“Live is my favorite way to play and present my songs. Not perfect. On the contrary, far from that. But that’s just how it is,” he says. “I think we really captured the essence of the Hole In The Wall. The cars passing, the occasional sirens from the street, the glasses clinking, the years of stains and cigarette smoke in the floor and walls. It’s a special room.”