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George St. Clair: “Ballads Of Captivity And Freedom” (2018) CD Review

Though currently based in the UK, singer and songwriter George St. Clair grew up in Texas, and his recent album, Ballads Of Captivity And Freedom, is American through and through, with some tracks taking a look at the United States’ history, particularly its relations with Native Americans. The album was recorded and mixed in California, and that certainly contributes to its flavor. The music is a good mix of folk and country, with some excellent lyrics. Joining George St. Clair on this release are Ben Bernstein on bass, Mike Stevens on drums, Dan Lebowitz on pedal steel and electric guitar, David Cuetter on pedal steel, Amy Scher on fiddle, and Kirby Hammel on piano and organ. Maya Abramson and Mark Estall provide backing vocals.

The album opens with one of its best songs, “Tularosa.” This is a wonderful folk-country song with some fantastic lyrics. I was pulled in on the first line, “Listen to me quick now before I tell you some lies.” And check out these lines: “And I learned all the right ways to get it wrong/And taking my time took too long/When I see who gets ahead, I’m glad I fell behind/Now I may be getting nowhere, but I’m starting not to mind.” In a way, those are some depressing lines; yet, this music is making me feel better about the world. And we all certainly need that today. I love the work on fiddle. Plus, George St. Clair’s voice has a friendly vibe, which I appreciate. It seems like everything here is working to tell us, as he sings, “everything is just fine.” That’s followed by another of the disc’s highlights, “The Places Where They Prayed,” an excellent folk song with some nice work on pedal steel. But again, it is the song’s lyrics that really grab me, lines like “People used to love the land/In ways we’ll never understand” and “And how many forgotten ways of dreaming/Are buried under all that asphalt steaming.” This is a song most of us can connect to, or at least a song that most of will want to connect to. This is really a song of our country, a song that our land itself would be singing. It’s interesting, because it has a pleasant sound, when it could have easily taken on an angry tone. “Liberty, she turned away from those who could have used her help.” There is a spoken word section at the end.

“Autumn 1889” tells a captivating story about Native Americans, and the colliding of worlds and ways and beliefs. “They started chanting and swaying all through the night/They were calling for the spirits of every Indian that died/Through the tears that they offered up every night/And they’d been run out from the dens where they’d fought to hold back the tide/Of our numbers and our unyielding desire.” And toward the end there is some beautiful blending of voices. “And now they’re dreaming of a morning/When they can open their eyes/And the plains and the mountains/Will show no trace of our kind.” “Good Times” has a delightful, good-time country groove, getting you tapping your toes and so on. Then its first line is “I don’t know how you can keep on having good times,” which almost for a moment seems directed us for having a good time with this very song. An interesting effect, and it pulled me in. This is a really good song, featuring some nice work on piano. And, like every other song on this album, it includes some good lines. “You keep on having good times though you don’t seem to see/That you’re only feeling better since you’re better off than me/You think that those good times came to you for free/Or they didn’t get that good until you got the best of me.

“Lie To Them” has a light, pleasant country sound and more nice work on backing vocals. “Deny what you have to do to save your skin/Now go and sharpen up your knives/That’s the only way that they’ll grow in/Let them do the bleeding.” And here is an interesting line, which is repeated: “They’re lying to you/Lie to them.” In this, the sixty-third year of Donald Trump’s presidency, it is sometimes difficult to remember what honesty is like. We have grown used to being lied to because we are lied to by our so-called leaders all day, every day. Republicans are dirty, mendacious cretins who care nothing about their hypocrisy or about this country or about anything other than money. Sad, but true. Also sad but true is that Democrats are going to need to start fighting dirty too. “They’re lying to you/Lie to them.” “New Mexico” is another really good track. I love the line that the border “Divides Spanish and English billboard signs.” It shows that difference in language is fairly unimportant, using the depressing imagery of billboards and the fact that we have them in common. The CD concludes with “Talkin’ Mesquite,” a traditional-sounding folk song delivered as basically spoken word, in the loose, talking blues folk style. “They don’t need your love and they don’t need your care/Just a couple drops of rain a couple times a year/They don’t mind oil fumes or car exhaust/Or the bottles or beer cans that drunk drives toss.

CD Track List

  1. Tularosa
  2. The Places Where They Prayed
  3. Autumn 1889
  4. Corridors
  5. Good Times
  6. Cynthia
  7. Up To Fail
  8. Lie To Them
  9. Cimarrones
  10. New Mexico
  11. Pedro Paramo
  12. Talkin’ Mesquite

Ballads Of Captivity And Freedom was released on March 2, 2018.



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George St. Clair

Ballads of Captivity and Freedom

Review by Gary Hill
This set seems to be a concept album in some ways. At least, at lot of the songs are about Native American history. There are other things, though, that are about contemporary issues, but they seem related to the others, leading me to think that it’s more or less a concept set, but that the concept is a rather loose one. Musically this is the kind of thing that would have been quite at home on the radio in the 1970s. There is a lot of the soft rock of music like The Eagles and America built into this album.  Yet, it also has a lot of country in it. Then again, so did most of the soft rock of the early 70s. This is a timeless album that is very effective. As good as the music is, the stories woven into the lyrics really shine with an immediacy and honesty.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2018  Volume 3 at

Track by Track Review
Coming in with a mellow, folky vibe, this gets some country elements added to the mix as it makes its way forward. It’s a classy tune with a classic sound at its heart. I suppose “soft rock with plenty of Southern twang” is pretty close to the description of this.
The Places Where They Prayed
A mellower, slower moving piece, this has a lot more country in the mix. There is a spoken movement further down the road.
Autumn 1889
This is an even mellower number. It has less country music built into it, though. It makes think of a cross between Jackson Browne and The Eagles.
Energized folk rock, this is another classy cut. It’s not a huge change, but has some solid hooks and a good groove.
Good Times
With a lot more country built into it, this has a real old-time music vibe. The piano solo bit is cool, as is the slide guitar.
With a lot of folk and soft rock in the mix, this one definitely makes me think of the acoustic side of The Eagles.
Up to Fail
One of the most rocking tunes here, this is definitely built on folk music, making it the definition of folk rock. Some of the guitar sounds on this make me think of Neil Young a bit. The lyrics to this tell a dark tale of the reality of life. This gets a minor parental advisory, but also has a powerhouse guitar solo.
Lie to Them
The guitar picking on this number brings a lot of country to the table. This is an effective number that does a good job of combining the country and rock elements.
This song has a good balance between mellower rock and more powered up, dreamy type stuff. It’s a powerful piece of music.
New Mexico
Energetic music, there is plenty of country in the slide guitar that dances around a lot of this. Still, overall it’s more in line with soft rock music.
Pedro Páramo
I dig the folk music vibe on this piece.
Talkin Mesquite
This reminds me of Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere.” The acoustic guitar sounds are intricate and the vocals are spoken.




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George St. Clair is an American folk singer and songwriter from Austin, Texas who has been living in the United Kingdom for several years to practice his daily profession of archaeologist and anthropologist. In his songs, the life of the past and of today is sung in simple and understandable terms.
The scene in which all these stories take place can be effortlessly devised by the listener himself, whether it is somewhere in the high mountains of West Texas or in the soothing surroundings of the vast meadow landscapes or the dry desert areas of his homeland. On his latest album “Ballads Of Captivity And Freedom” he brings twelve folk and country songs in which his new world in London seems to be covered in a few songs.
Opening song “Tularosa” (see acoustic live version on the video) sets the tone for what we are all offered afterwards on this great CD. George St.Clair has received instrumental assistance from album producer and bassist Ben Bernstein, keyboardist Kirby Hammel, guitarist and pedal steel player Dan Lebowitz and drummer Mike Stevens, while backing vocals were provided by Maya Abramson and Mark Estall. Together they created a broad orchestrated record that sounds very smoothly.
Other songs on “Ballads Of Captivity And Freedom” that have charmed us are “The Places Where They Prayed”, “Autumn 1889”, the cheerful up-tempo and “handclapsed” “Corridors” and country rock tune “Lie To Them”. Furthermore, it is also enjoying the songs “Cimarrones”, “New Mexico”, “Pedro Paramo” and album-closing “Talkin Mesquite”, inspired by the native country of his mother Mexico.
His Texan musical examples Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark certainly have their influences in the music of this troubadour George St.Clair and that will remain very nice references until further notice. Whether he will be able to follow in the footsteps of these legendary artists with this record, the future should prove.
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George St. Clair / Ballads Of Captivity And Freedom – CD Review

Artist: George | St. Clair Label: Homegrown Music Style: Americana , Roots

George St. Clair - "Ballads Of Captivity And Freedom" - CD review 

The American singer, musician and composer George St. Clair has been living in England for several years, but grew up in Texas. His family worked on the local oil fields, so the young George has already received a proper dose of so-called hard life with hard work and poor pay. At some point he moved to Austin, Texas, where he got his real baptism of fire as a live artist. He has been working as an archaeologist and anthropologist for over twenty years, leading him through several southern US states and Mexico, before moving to Europe. However, the music never left him like his homeland, so he moved back to the USA for the recordings of “Ballads Of Captivity And Freedom”, more specifically to Richmond, California.

And if that was just good for finding musicians with the right feel for St. Clair’s songs and style, then that step was well worth it. The American puts on the twelve tracks presented here wonderful, melodic Americana and Roots Rock songs that are far from being smoothed or set up. With the usual organic instruments recorded, it is in addition to the high-quality performances of the session musicians above all again and again the vocal melodies that go very well in the ear and stay there mostly for a long time. In addition to piano, bass and drums, the acoustic guitar is the dominant instrument. The icing on the cake comes mostly from the pedal steel guitar, which rounds off the pieces again and again.

Lyrically, George St. Clair is about interpersonal issues, but another big point is the relationship between the original American inhabitants and the so-called ‘white’ population. The above style designations suggest it already: Here are of course many country influences in the game, but also folk and singer / songwriter bonds are represented. The very successful mixture of these genres then makes the disc the one it has become. The pedal steel guitarist Dan Lebowitzbut also brings an electric into the game, which of course does not hurt. For example, “Cynthia”, which is otherwise only supported by the acoustic, the bass and some percussion, has a vocal line to die for, and a ton of feeling. And before I forget it: A good pinch of Westcoast is also in there.

“Ballads Of Captivity And Freedom” has not become a lurid album, but also not overly thoughtful or melancholy. The lyrics raise a lot of unanswered questions about which it would be essential (especially for Americans) to think about it. However, the disc does not pull the listener into an emotional basement at any time, because the songs themselves are much too good for that. The opener “Tularosa” is (like “Up To Fail”) a very strong country rock-number, with “New Mexico” it’s back to Westcoast and with “Talkin ‘Mesquite” one automatically thinks of the Talking Blues- Pieces of a Townes Van Zandt ,

George St. Clair does not (yet?) Have a big or well-known name, but you should definitely check “Ballads Of Captivity And Freedom”, if you are on very good Americana and Roots music.

Line-up George St. Clair:

George St Clair (acoustic guitar, bongos, lead & background vocals)
Mike Stevens (drums & percussion)
Dan Lebowitz (pedal steel guitar, electric guitar)
Ben Bernstein (bass, lead acoustic guitar – # 3)
Kirby Hammel (piano, organ )
Mark Estall (background vocals)
Maya Abramson (background vocals)

David Cuetter (pedal steel guitar – # 1,2)
Amy Sher (fiddle – # 1)

Tracklist “Ballads Of Captivity And Freedom”:

  1. Tularosa
  2. The Places Where They Prayed
  3. Autumn 1889
  4. Corridors
  5. Good Times
  6. Cynthia
  7. Up To Fail
  8. Lie To Them
  9. Cimarrones
  10. New Mexico
  11. Pedro Paramo
  12. Talkin ‘Mesquite

Total playing time: 56:36, release year: 2018


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Nightwalk/Via Nocturna (Portugal) Interview: GEORGE ST. CLAIR “BALLADS OF CAPTIVITY AND FREEDOM”

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Hello George, how are you? Ballads Of Freedom And Captitivity shows your side balladeer and country , without diminishing the Mexican influence. How is this blend made in the composition process?

Alive! I’m fine thank you! It’s cold here in London! I am quite comfortable with both Mexican and country influences . When I’m composing, I just put them together in a natural way. Some songs clearly begin in one style or another, so it may just be a process of following the melody or lyrical idea of how it originally came to me. But it may also depend on the mood I’m in at the time.

Some of these songs were already in the 2016 release, Tularosa . How did you get them back? Did you give them a new outfit?

Some were completely recorded, in others I re-designed the bass and the drums to give them a greater feeling of what I intended. In the California sessions I enjoyed some great musicians. In fact, let’s all redo it in the studios in California, but some original songs I did in London still stood out as being the best.

Although currently alive in Europe, this record has lost nothing of American sentiment. Is that because you recorded in the US?

This record is very based on the US Southwest and the Mexican borders and I wanted musicians to bring that authentic sound. California has a lot of great musicians. For example, my producer on this record is also a virtuoso bass player and a true student of American roots and different styles like Latin jazz , salsa and samba . For me, it was very important to trust the musicians to let them do their own thing.

How does a cowboy live in Europe? You been here for how long? Was it an easy adaptation?

I’ve been in London for a decade and I think I like it here! I miss the sun, the desert, the mountains and the open landscape. In reality, you can not lose anywhere in Europe, and this has been the greatest sacrifice for me, to always be in the midst of civilization. But the depth of the history and variety of places built by humans in Europe are endless and fascinating.

Musically, do you incorporate any European influence in your compositions?

Well, I am sure that I am influenced by the tradition of poetry and verses that goes through literature, poetry and British and Spanish music, which I had the opportunity to read and listen to. In particular, the sparse and powerful poetry of flamenco has always moved me, and it is impossible not to feel the wit and wit in British literature. Whatever affects me eventually finds its way to music.

Being a musician who crosses the sound of Texas with Mexican folk , how do you see this idea of Trump wanting to build a wall?

I think the US connection with Mexico is one of our biggest assets. Mexico is truly our sister nation – we share history, land, people and many things. Mexico is a country so rich in so many aspects that its influence also contributes to the United States. It is sad to me that some politically powerful people try to be popular to spread ignorance about this fact.

What videos have you created for this album?

I am now finishing a video for New Mexico ! I’ll post it briefly. The next thing I’ll do is to the song Up To Fail , so stay tuned.

Who is Pedro Páramo that appears in your album?

Pedro Paramo is an infamous character in the homonymous novel of the Mexican author Juan Rulfo. It is a short, powerful and surreal story about a man who exercises his will in an isolated place, by the time of the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. I’m sure it translates well into Portuguese!

Do you have anything planned for the Road for the next time?

I will be touring the USA to do some shows in Austin, Texas. Then I’ll have a couple of dates in London in June. My next step is to organize a tour of Europe to promote the album. I would love to play in Portugal, so I would like to know some good places to do a show.

Thank you so much George, do you want to add something else?

I just want to thank Via Nocturna for playing my music and thanking your listeners in Portugal! It means a lot can bring this music to new people. If your listeners like the record, please download it and let me get your reactions. [In Portuguese – part not edited] In fact I speak Portuguese reasonably well – not so well to compose songs – more sufficient enough to correspond. But if I have the opportunity I would love to spend some time there to remedy my linguistic limitation! A hug and, bye!




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US Review: George St. Clair “Ballads of Captivity and Freedom”

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