Roger Crane the Song Scout: Great Ballads

July 2, 2015

Roger Crane the Song Scout

By Roger Crane

 

Fellow Music Fans….

I’m an adagio-kind of guy. I love ballads – jazz ballads, country ballads, Latin ballads, any ballads. In particular I seek the great recordings, meaning the 3-way combination of…

1 – Fine Song 2 – Fine Singer 3 – Fine Arrangement/Accompaniment

For example, you can find many such “triple threats” on the various Sinatra recordings from his Capitol years. Here is a beautiful song from those recordings which I often return to.

THE SONG – “Lonely Town”- By Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, from the 1944 Broadway show, On the Town

THE SINGER – Frank Sinatra

THE ARRANGER/CONDUCTOR – Gordon Jenkins

COMMENTS

I am not alone in my affection for this recording. Sinatra, in a 1984 interview chose it as “the best record I ever made.” One of the key components of Jenkins’ chart is his use of a haunting French horn introduction by Vince DeRosa (link below). I enjoy much of Bernstein’s music but not a particular fan of some songs (e.g., finding “Somewhere” boring with its pretentious Puccini high notes).

But “Lonely Town” (along with “Lucky to Be Me” and “Some Other Time” from the same show) is a superior song. It is a favorite of jazz groups, probably due to its subtle, constant modulation from minor to major and its unusual chords. Vocally, it is demanding, requiring a lot of voice and exact intonation. Maybe that is why the mediocre singers leave it alone. Sinatra is up to it and sings with vulnerability and is at ease with the slow tempo.

“Lonely Town” is on Sinatra’s 1957 Capitol recording titled Where Are You, which was his first recording in stereo. It is perfection or, if that is too reverent, let’s say “perfectly wonderful.”

And here’s another version of the song in a lovely piano rendition by Bill Charlap and his trio
(bassist, Peter Washington, drummer Kenny Washington).

Best to you all.  Comments welcomed.

Roger, the Benevolent Guardian of Song  (and an eager vendor of opinions)


CD Review: Van Morrison’s “Duets: Re-Working the Catalogue”

March 28, 2015

By Brian Arsenault

I started getting happy listening to Van Morrison’s Duets:Re-Working the Catalog” (RCA) about the time George Benson was singing as smooth as he always is on “Higher Than The World” and I was downright grinning through Van and Georgie Fame’s “Get On With The Show.” Pure 50s jukebox. Drifters, Coasters, gratuitous but funny “cha cha cha” at the end. Just shoulda kept it to two minute twenty second hit single radio time of the era.

You can while away a weekend morning with the album and feel better about things. Be advised, though, you will take a chunk out of that morning. There are 16 tracks. None are bad but some work better than others.

On “Streets of Arklow,” Mick Hucknall (Simply Red anyone) and Van are a perfect matched set of singers on one of the album’s moodiest songs. “Souls are clear. . .”   Mark Knopfler’s voice was made for “Irish Heartbeat” nearly as much as Van’s own. As with Hucknall, their voices flow over each other seamlessly.  Perhaps a bit more Knopfler guitar.

And Van’s good not just with the boys but with the girls too.

Raspy Mavis Staples is the perfect offset to Morrison’s own sharp edges on “If I Ever Needed Someone.”

Daughter Shana Morrison achieves with Dad a hymn of the Church of Music, the only church left to so many, on “Rough God Goes Riding.”

The musicianship throughout is never just background. Of special note are the Whites, Chris on tenor sax and Alistair on trombone. As far as I know, they are not related except by excellence. One example, on “The Eternal Kansas City,” the Whites are at the center of a neat little Kansas City bebop instrumental break.

You can almost hear Neal Cassady yelling, “that’s it, that’s it” on a stop On The Road.

Van Morrison

Van Morrison

When I was disappointed it was only a matter of personal taste, not artistry by Morrison and the incredible talent he assembled.

On “Carrying A Torch”, Clare Teal’s voice is literally like the tealing of the purest bell ever cast. I don’t want Van joining in because I don’t want anything to dilute Clare’s singing. But, hey, it’s his album.

More often, though, you may be struck by the fact that you like the original version of songs better. As Kath said, she likes Van so much she wasn’t sure she always likes him sharing favorite songs. But, hey, it’s his album.

I also found that the album slogged along a bit with ballad after ballad before “Get On With The Show” and the late injection of faster pace with Van and Michael Buble on “Real Real Gone.” I may not quite get Buble but the man can sing and who doesn’t love a song with references to Sam Cooke, Wicked Wilson Pickett and James Brown.

Which brings me to Taj, closing the album with Van on “How Can A Poor Boy?” Taj Mahal is so true to the purity of the blues that he seems to step out from an earlier time. I wondered if Van in closing the album with such a blues rendition of one of his signature songs was telling us that under it all, there is always the blues.

Rings true.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.

 


CD Review: Diana Krall “Wallflower”

February 4, 2015

By Don Heckman

Diana Krall’s continuing quest to widen her already far reaching repertoire has led her to some of the most memorable songs of the ’70s and ’80s in this fine new Verve outing.  I’ve been hearing, seeing and writing about Diana in action since the ’90s. And I’ve been consistently awed by her capacity to apply her rich musicality to whatever genre she tries on for size.

Wallflower is no exception. I haven’t viewed the songs of the ’70s and ’80s with the sort of affection triggered by tunes from other decades in the Great Songbook. But sung with Diana’s remarkable story telling skills, virtually everything here comes vividly to life.

That said, it’s no surprise that the best known and most successful five or six numbers in the twelve song program have the greatest impact. The list begins with Diana’s laid back takes on the Mommas and Poppas’ “California Dreaming,” the Eagles’ “Desperado” and “I Can’t Tell You Why,” Leon Russell’s “Superstar” and Elton John’s “Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word.”

Add to that a pair of captivating duos in which Diana is joined by Michael Buble on Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again” and by Bryan Adams on Randy Newman’s “Feels Like Home.”

As if all that weren’t enough, there are a pair of lesser known, but no less compelling songs: the title tune, “Wallflower” by Bob Dylan and a new Paul McCartney song, “IF I Take You Home Tonight.” And top it off with Jim Croce’s “Operator That’s Not the Way It Feels,” the English band 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love” and the Australian band Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over.”

That’s a daunting program of songs, one that would be a challenge for almost any singer who comes to mind. But Diana, as noted above, handles them all superbly, aided by the rich musicality and the touching emotional honesty at the center of her art.

Additional credit should also be offered to producer/arranger David Foster. His arrangements, lush with cushions of string textures, provide a perfect setting for Diana, allowing her to offer her lyrical narratives at every level of sound and feeling.

The only missing element in an otherwise irresistible musical banquet was the up front proximity of Diana’s piano playing. For the great majority of her career, her singing and her piano have been intimately mated, with one continually inspiring the other. And the bolder presence of that creative duality could have provided the energy to transform Wallflower from a fine album to a great one.

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Diana Krall photo by Bonnie Perkinson. 


Record Rack: Tord Gustavsen Quartet and The Frank DiBussolo Group

February 8, 2014

Of Music from Norway and Allentown, PA

By Brian Arsenault

The Tord Gustavsen Quartet:  Extended Circle (ECM Records)

If God is Dead, his demise hasn’t prevented artists of serious purpose from seeking the spiritual, nay, creating the spiritual. Sacred music is never far from the mind and spirit of Tord Gustafsen whose compositions dominate Extended Circle.

Perhaps our doubting, questioning age had to bring forth artists who seek for what has been lost in the materialism of modernism. More than a century ago, the largely forgotten great American writer Sherwood Anderson bemoaned the loss of a sense of community, overwhelmed by the acquisitiveness of the modern times. Imagine his horror today as we all rush for more stuff that beeps and hums and sometimes catches fire in our pockets.

So here is Gustavsen and his terrific quartet pondering, meditating, respecting the stillness between the notes. That’s typical of ECM recordings but never more so than here. Each note played on its own completely, uncluttered, actually having a beginning and an end.

Still, I’m not sure I could have expected the frenetic, frantic drumming of Jarle Vespestad early in the album on “Eg Veit I Himmerik Ei Borg” (A Castle in Heaven), a reworked traditional Norwegian hymn.

Nor did I see coming, amidst so much meditation, the body swaying melodic tenor saxophone of Tore Brunborg on “Staying There.” This is jazz after all by fine jazz musicians.

But oh so serious. I’m an American and as a result sometimes raucously irreverent and I wonder if anyone ever cracks up or cracks wise during these recording sessions. Laughter now and then, please.

There’s something of the album’s theme in the title “Staying There,” not racing forward as in the modern age but holding still to sense something deeper.

I suppose, though, that the album’s real theme is stated more accurately though less satisfyingly on the following track, “Silent Spaces.” The previously cited silent spaces between fully expressed notes seem to summarize the album, its musical approach, the ECM credo.

Throughout, Mars Eilertsen’s double bass unites with Vespested’s drumming to form the foundation of all.

As noted, this is serious stuff and it’s not always easy for the untrained ear and paced rather slowly for usual American tastes. Yet it holds. It holds.

Near the end of the album “Glow” is in perfect tempo with the snow falling outside my window as I write this review. Norwegians know snow. It is part of their spirit, after all.

 The Frank DiBussolo Group: Songs to Write Home About (lostworldmusic)

So they put this little combo together in Allentown, Pennsylvania, from whence my mother’s Italian side of the family hails. And the guy heading the band is Frank DiBussulo. And they do American songbook tunes from the World War II era (see album cover) which was my parents’ generation, and they expect me to be objective about the album. Nah.

I liked it before I heard it and anyway any time I seem to be objective I’m probably really not. It’s about music I like or at least respect or I wouldn’t be writing about it.

Frank DiBussoloBut boy I really like this album now that I’ve heard it and singer Tiffany Grochowski’s singing is as much of a revelation to me as DiBussolo’s oh so smooth guitar.

Lets talk Grochowski first because this gal should be a star. She’s that good.

She’s so exuberant and playful on the early tunes — “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” — alternately so wide eyed and sultry that I wonder if she’ll manage the erotic subtlety of “Teach Me Tonight.” She does.

She slides just as comfortably into the romantic sense of “Moonglow” and the sauciness of “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me.”

In fact my biggest disappointment of the album is that “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” is done as an instrumental. Not that it isn’t good, it’s fine, but I was so looking forward to hearing Tiffany’s take on the tune and lyrics.

Speaking of instrumentals, “East of the Sun (West of the Moon)” really showcases DiBussolo’s guitar work. He’s one of those musicians whose playing just seems to flow naturally like he was born playing. Know what I mean? Sinatra singing. Armstrong playing. It’s what they do.

He’s just as good supporting as leading and he’s clearly a generous spirit to frequently step back to let Tiffany G’s vocals soar. He didn’t put the band together just to feature himself and that’s not so common, is it?

This is jazz for the club, the cabaret, not the concert hall. It’s jazz for dancing and drinking and forgetting your troubles and the War, if just for the night.

The singer out front, the gifted guitarist playing lead. Steven Liu’s upright bass and Bryan Tuk’s drums behind. Guest Gregory Edwards sits in on sax or clarinet on some numbers.

Good stuff.

But at the end it’s just Tiffany’s voice and DiBussolo’s guitar on “My Buddy.” I hadn’t thought about that sentimental old saw in a long time. My Dad liked that tune and he had a tendency to name dogs Buddy.

Old times made new.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


Record Rack: Daniel Kirkpatrick and the Bayonets and Black Belt Karate

October 27, 2013

By Brian Arsenault

Daniel Kirkpatrick and The Bayonets

Alibis (Rock Ridge Music)

About the time I’m thinking well this guy and his three piece band are maybe more “singer/songwriter” than rock. I mean you can understand just about all the lyrics. Does this guy understand rock ‘n roll. Does he?

But after two kinda boring if heartfelt tunes at the start, we get to the title track with its classic rock harmonies and foot tapping seduction and I go, Heyyy. “This Way” follows and I’m bouncing along and it is pleasing, melodic (think CSN) definite rock.

Honestly, I think the era of self produced albums has meant a loss of the value of professional producers. You have to lead with your best, not a couple filler tunes.

By “Don’t Leave Me Waiting” I realize that the underneath sound I’ve been digging is a drummer, Spencer Booth, who just keeps growing on you. The whole album does.

I think Kirkpatrick, who must be in his late twenties by now, is having some trouble leaving high school behind, but that can be hard for an American kid. What’s after high school, after all? CNN and Target.

I don’t know you now but I knew you then.” Kirkpatrick says he has found his voice. I believe him. Better things ahead.

There’s a feel here of music that you can wrap yourself in. A caring soul, rare enough in music or anywhere these days. Music that gets you reflective. And there’s something of art in that, eh?

All I Can Take” definitely has a Who kind of depth of feeling. And again those drums. I’m not saying Keith Moon here but. . .

Ransom” is rock “victory, tragedy wander(ing) the land” complete with pulsing guitar (Kirkpatrick, I think) and bass (Jordan Cassidy).

Emerald Blues in A Minor,” the rather pompously titled last cut, is at least a blues tribute missing from much rock these days. (More about that later.)

And on the last three songs just mentioned, the lyrics are a lot less clear. Rock on.

Black Belt Karate

Vol. 1 (Organic Audio)

About the time I’m really liking their energy on “Push” but thinking Black Belt Karate never does a change of pace, they do. On the really haunting (just in time for Halloween) “Building Walls.”

Surprise, surprise” the song’s lyric says — good lyrics to despair by but loving in their own way. No such lovey stuff as they return to speed rock on “Kaleidoscope.” “You’re a bummer and a bitch. Baby, you’re obnoxious.”

 Black Belt KarateI guess the war of the sexes continues and just as I was thinking these Millennial rockers with their album, Vol. 1, are a long way from the blues and r&b which are the base of the form. Yet you still hear a distant echo of Little Richard on “Lucille.”

For the most part though, BBK (which would be a better name, I think) is related to closer generations: a bit of ZZ Top on “Rigamortis”; Metallica on “Servant”; later Alice in Chains and maybe some Stone Temple Pilots.

So of course this is muscular rock not made for easy listening. More like shake a few brain cells loose during a live performance. But hey the album was produced and recorded by a guy named Achilles, ergo what else would you expect.

Five songs and about a quarter hour on this EP, available online, I’m sure, in all those places I don’t go to, as well as in CD format.

Also expect powerhouse drumming from Ryan Brown who squeezes in some well timed silences in the manic beating. Ryan Hanifl’s vocals sometimes seem derivative but he can surprise with emotional range on songs like the aforementioned “Building Walls” and “Kaleidoscope.”

Where Hanifl really shines, though, is on the band’s separate cover of Oingo Boingo’s magnificent tribute to “Wild Sex (In the Working Class).” A single, how about that, a single. Guess we’ll see more of that in the age of “all major digital stores.” Available now.

But what a recording. Super yearning, horny vocal. Guitarist Jason A. Mezillis (A for Achilles, see!) gets to do more than pound two chords fast. A fine little harmonica solo by somebody.

BBK “may be greasing the wheels of a noisy factory” — you know, Joni Mitchell might actually like that line — but with panache.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


Record Rack: The Rolling Stones

May 24, 2013

Three from the Stones in White Vinyl

 Reissues of:

“Let It Bleed” “Beggars Banquet” and “Hot Rocks 1964-1971″ (ABKCO Music and Records))

By  Brian Arsenault

I almost don’t have to listen to any of these records.  Oh, not because I haven’t heard any of this — just a few tune titles stumped me for a moment — but  because they are all branded into my brain for years, nay, decades.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t or I won’t. I’m listening to “Factory Girls” right now.

First of all , the albums are reissued in glorious vinyl and sound like records, not sterile digital unfeeling CDs.  And it’s a clear vinyl to boot,  kinda weird when handling but just as good sound quality as the black vinyl version.  It’s just that the black vinyl always had that air of mystery, a dangerous black box about to be opened to the mind.

But enough of that, these are the Stones, man, long before they became geezers, back when their fans argued endlessly about which was the best of their many albums.

.

The press piece announcing the release of the albums on May 28 says that “many,”  whoever they are, consider Let It Bleed the best of all.  Well, it does include the soaring “Gimme Shelter,” the deeply felt tribute song “Love In Vain” and the ever dangerous “Midnight Rambler,” which seems scarier today in these scarier times.

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Yet would you overlook Beggers Banquet with the slyly demonic “Sympathy for the Devil” — another song that seems somehow more fitting for the current era — along with the scorching “Street Fighting Man?”  It was also the last full album with the late Brian Jones.

Jones has long since fallen out of favor in the Stones’ legend, but he was the guy who ran the ad that led to the band’s formation and he could play just about any instrument given 15 minutes or so to learn it.  No, he couldn’t step back for Jagger’s prominence, but even longtime pal Keith Richards, especially Keith, knows what a pain Mick can be.

And I don’t want to argue too much about which album is best.  But for me it’s Exile on Main Street that is the most coherent object d’art. And Get Yer Ya Yas out is one fine “live” album.

Anyway, the third album of the trio about to be re-released, Hot Rocks 1964-1971, is a fine sampler of Stones stuff from early recordings up through Let It Bleed selections and a bit beyond.  The uninitiated and the young may benefit most from this compilation. Or, you could buy them all if coin of the realm isn’t in short supply these days. It’s all good.

Listening to much younger Stones on these albums almost makes me wish they’d stop touring.  That scary picture on the new Rolling Stone Magazine kinda tells you why.  Except every time I’ve seen them in concert in recent years, in person or on film, I’m struck by how good Keith and Charlie especially still are.

Mick jumping about is just a bit geriatric but he’s earned it, hasn’t he?  And he doesn’t have to use a walker yet.

Hey, as my son Kurt says, Richards was always an old guy, wasn’t he?  He seems better that way, even though we’re all rather surprised he made it this far.  Bet he is too.

Anyway, they didn’t end up like Elton playing night after night in Vegas.  Didn’t you always  figure that‘s where “Tiny Dancer“ was bound?

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


Record Rack: Steven Casper & Cowboy Angst; Noah Preminger and Terri Lyne Carrington

May 2, 2013

Of Americana Rock, American Tenor Sax and American Genius Reprised

 By Brian Arsenault

The range of great American music never ceases to amaze me.  When they’re writing about our civilization, such as it is, a number of centuries hence I am quite sure it will be our music that is most treasured and remembered.  Unless the whole grid collapses, of course.

 Steven Casper & Cowboy Angst

Trouble (Silent City Records)

There is just no disputing the good time of bad times this EP (not LP) provides the listener.  Five tunes, one done twice, to take you deep into the heart of American music done road house bounce — blues, r&b, zydeco, Tex-Mex, Looziana all tied up in a just dazzling display.  In other words, rock and roll to delight the soul.

What Casper and his new Cowboy Angst lineup understand is that it’s all connected.  From the hills of West Virginia to the Delta. From Nashville to New York. At its best, it’s all American music. The Band knew that and so does Casper.

“Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” opens the proceedings and rightly so; a nasty tasty blues/gospel tune you won’t hear in church, with two McCrary sisters singing backup to Casper’s lead vocal.  In this version, it’s the guy who’s the cat.

Then here comes “Soul Deep”. Real nice lap steel guitar by John Groover McDuffie. Tom Petty would probably have a hit with this.

“I know where you end is the start of me.”

The title song is pure Louisiana  barroom rock.  How can trouble make you feel so good.

“I don’t go looking for trouble. Trouble comes looking for me.”

But the absolute gem of the album is “How Can I Miss You When You’re Not Gone?” Keeps the Cajun going and the irony can’t be missed.. The song is repeated as a “front porch” instrumental with banjo and fiddle to finish out the album.  But the first version will make you dance alone if there’s no one to dance with.

“Hey Marie” reaches way back to the 1950s to what Don and Phil Everly might have cut with Chuck Berry if songs could have been so damn bad back then without being censored or masqueraded. Chuck knew how to do that.

Marie writes on the wall: “Had a real good time. Don’t bother to call.”  Years later he sees their history “while standing in the grocery line.”

This little album is so good we might not deserve it. But it’s here this summer.

Noah Preminger

Haymaker (Palmetto Records)

Something special your way comes on May 14.

Noah Preminger, like Hemingway, boxes.  And like Hemingway he’s clear and concise.  He wants you to get it without the merely decorative and overly descriptive.  Here, here it is. Hear it.

On Haymaker, his tenor sax is moody and reflective at times — think Hawkins — as on the opening tune “Morgantown.”  Lovely and cool at other times — as on “Tomorrow,” whether you liked the musical Annie or not.

All saxophones played well are great to me, but tenor is the most satisfying; expressive and deeply touching. It’s why Kerouac called players of the instrument “tenorman.” They were special. Still are.

There are good songs all over the place. Preminger can’t remember what girl he wrote “My Blues for You” for, so it’s for all the girls you’ve loved.  Ben Mondor’s guitar solo picks up Preminger’s mood but it almost hurts when his horn breaks off.

Monder steps out front in the intro to his composition “Animal Planet.” Real smooth. Then Preminger comes in with such melodic lines.  A real favorite of mine.

On “Stir My Soul” and elsewhere, drummer Colin Stranahan sometimes annoys with his insistent pounding.  Oh, he’s good but he doesn’t need to fill every available space.  More Charlie Watts, less Keith Moon, please. Or listen to the next album (see below).

Still, he’s fine on the Dave Matthews song “Don’t Drink the Water.” The band makes you feel so good here as they start real smooth, go off into space and then return to the song’s melody.

“Motif Attractif” is a sweet little sendoff to close the album.

Preminger’s playing — ascending, descending, roaming, retuning — is just so sensitive to tonality, melody, timing and the other musicians that he is special to hear.

A haymaker in boxing can produce a knockout all on its own.

 Terri Lyne Carrington

Money Jungle Provocative in Blue (Concord Blue)

Shoot for the top.  Can’t hurt and it might work.

Drummer supreme Terri Lyne Carrington does just that with a reworking of Duke Ellington’s remarkable trio recording Money Jungle with Charles Mingus and Max Roach.  She gathers up the superb piano of Gerald Clayton and bassist Christian McBride with a few others and nails it.

I’m kinda late reviewing this album that came out during the winter but it got buried in the stack and just has to be paid homage to the way she pays homage to Ellington.

Even when she throws in a few of her own songs she seems true to the Duke.  I think he would have liked them. A lot.  And Clayton gets his own cut, “Cut Off,” which also resonates as a true Ellington descendant.

But the Ellington tunes, oh yeah.  A money hating downer narrative leading us into the album is overridden by the joyousness of the music that follows.  Clayton’s piano complemented just perfectly by Carrington’s drumming. She understands that the spaces are as important as the hits.

The only jarring note in the tune “Money Jungle” is the music being interspersed with speech clips from various politicians.  Doesn’t do much for me.  Money may be the enemy of art, but try paying the rent without the coin from gigs and recordings.  Politicians don’t do anything for art or anyone.  They don’t make things better for anybody but themselves.

But back to Ellington’s music.  “Fleurette Africain” demonstrates beautifully Mingus’ quote in the liner notes about simplicity.

“Anybody can play weird; that’s easy (and) making the simple complicated is commonplace.  What’s hard is to be as simple as Bach.  Making the simple, awesomely simple… That’s creativity.”

You’ll get it when you hear it.  Simple. Note to note. Chord to chord. Builds, weaves but always simple.  You hear every bit of it.

Same with “Backward Country Boy Blues,” with “Switch Blade,” with all of the Ellington compositions so lovingly handled here.

The wrap comes with “Rem Blues/Music” and the recitation of an Ellington poem within.

“Music is a woman . ..

When you think what you think,

She already knows”

Terri Lyne knows.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


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