In my recap of Mile 0 Fest 2020, I remarked that James Steinle’s style falls somewhere around if John Prine maintained a residency at the Broken Spoke and worked at the Mean Eyed Cat in his off time. That’s the vibe you’ll find on his sophomore effort, What I Came Here For. Building on where he left off with 2018’s South Texas Homecoming, Steinle mines familiar musical terrain with sophisticated and witty lyrical observations. This is observant honky-tonk. Thinking man’s country music. Steel guitars support the stories of seedy characters, seedier settings and the triumphs and tragedies of modern life on the south side. “Black and White Blues” riffs in the terrain made famous by the likes of Carll and McMurtry but with a more standard country arrangement. There’s a K Phillips vibe to the laidback toe-tapping of “Low and Slow” with groovy keys and guitar all over it. This project was produced by Bruce Robison and evokes the scene of his Country Sunshine album. All over the record you’ll find backing vocals from Juliet McConkey, guitar licks from Geoff Queen and Rich Brotherton and an appearance or two from Jamie Lin Wilson. This is the album for those folks that dig Robert Earl Keen as much as they love Asleep at the Wheel. It grooves even in its quieter moments and the stories will leave you analyzing them long after the last note rings out. Steinle is one of the finest young songwriters currently toiling in Texas and this record shows him figuring things out even further.
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