My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Classic Rewind: Ernest Tubb – ‘Dear Judge’

Predictions for the 58th Annual Grammy Awards

logoCountry music fans have much to look forward to come Grammy Night, which is coming up on Monday this year. Carrie Underwood and Sam Hunt will croon their duet “Heartbreat.” Chris Stapleton is slated to join Bonnie Raitt and others in a tribute to B.B. King. Luke Bryan is joining a slew of pop artists in honoring Lionel Richie, who is the Grammys MusiCares Person of the Year. Little Big Town will take the stage as well.

Best of all is the last minute announcement is that Eagles will honor Glenn Frey along with their good friend Jackson Browne. The rest of the show promises to be equally as jammed packed, with just about every major artist under the sun slated to take the stage.

Here are my predictions for the country nominees, plus categories that feature artists marketed within the country or American Roots genres. Please leave a comment and let us know who you think/hope will walk away with Grammy Gold.

Best Country Solo Performance

Little-Toy-GunsThis is a very solid group of nominees. Perennial favorite Carrie Underwood has lost this category only once – when Taylor Swift’s “White Horse” bested “Just A Dream.” Cam, surprisingly, is the weak link. Her hit version of “Burning House” is nowhere near as good as Emily Ann Roberts’ from The Voice last season. Who would’ve imagined a contestant on a reality singing competition would find the hidden nuance in a song its own singer couldn’t?

Should Win: “Chances Are” – Lee Ann Womack has yet to win a single award for her seventh album, a transitional record that showcased the artistic sensibilities she’s only hinted at until now. This is the album’s finest track, possibly the greatest performance she’s given to date. Real country music deserves to slay the competition.

Will Win: “Little Toy Guns” – It’s a fool’s game to bet against Carrie Underwood. Not only does she stand the strongest chance of winning, she’s the only one powerful enough to stop Chris Stapleton in his tracks. He will walk away a Grammy winner before the night it through, it just won’t be for the title track of his debut album.

Best Country Duo/Group Performance

81T8Z9H91mL._SL1500_This is a hodgepodge of nominees, with some forgettable performances along side some treasures.

Should Win: “If I Needed You” – Joey + Rory have the sentimental vote and a serge in name recognition since Joey’s cancer turned terminal last fall. They deserve to walk away the winner on what is their first and will likely be their only Grammy nomination.

Will Win: “Girl Crush” – There’s no stopping the Little Big Town behemoth, which is also in the running for the overall Song of the Year award. No one else is going to win this award.

Best Country Song

lovejunkies-660x400This is a heavyweight category, with a few extremely worthy nominees. I would love to see an upset here, but like the category above, there’s a very clear winner.

Should Win: “Hold My Hand” – Brandy Clark stole the show with her simple performance of this tune on last year’s telecast. The story of a woman determined to hold on to her man in the face of his ex is an instant classic. Clark deserves the prize for a tune she wrote and smartly kept for herself.

Will Win: “Girl Crush” – Should they lose Song of the Year, this will be their consolation prize. Should they win both, this will serve as icing on the cake.

travellerBest Country Album

Of all the country categories, this is easily the weakest. Little Big Town’s album was a dud, Kacey Musgraves’ was charming yet very uneven and Sam Hunt is…Same Hunt. The Grammys do deserve credit though – this is the first time in her career that Ashley Monroe has been nominated for an award for her own music.

Should Win: Traveller – I’m not fully on the Chris Stapleton bandwagon, but he does have the strongest album in this bunch. 

Will Win: Traveller – This is one, if not the only place, the Chris Stapleton bandwagon won’t be stopped.

A few more Predictions:

Jason-Isbell-24-frames-single-500x500Best American Roots Performance: I’d like to see Punch Brothers take this and finally win a Grammy of their own.

Best American Roots Song: Jason Isbell and “24 Frames.” The genius in the lyric is criminally underrated.

Best American Roots Album: I liked the upbeat nature of Punch Brothers Who’s Feeling Young Now better than the somber tone of The Phosphorescent Blues. They still deserve it, but I’d love to see Jason Isbell take this one. He hasn’t been recognized enough for his brilliant work.

Best Bluegrass Album: I haven’t a clue, but it would be interesting if the Steeldrivers take home an award the same night as their former lead singer Chris Stapleton does the same. If not, I’d go with Dale Ann Bradley.

Album of the Year: A strong category from which I’ve heard cases for each nominee to win. Stapleton could take it, as couldUnknown Alabama Shakes. But I’m going to go with Taylor Swift’s 1989, easily the most important pop album of the eligibility period.

Song of the Year: Taylor Swift has never won an award for her pop work with Max Martin. I expect that to change this year, when “Blank Space” deservedly takes this category. “Girl Crush” has a shot, but “Blank Space” is far more developed and clever.

Best New Artist: I’ll take a shot in the dark and choose Courtney Barnett. I just don’t see how this award could go to Sam Hunt. But stranger things have happened.

Classic Rewind: Buddy Miller – ‘A Showman’s Life’

Album Review: Buddy and Julie Miller – ‘Buddy and Julie Miller’

buddyandjulielargeIt took Buddy Miller six years and four studio albums before he made a proper duo record with his wife Julie. Released in 2001 on HighTone Records, Buddy and Julie Miller was the inaugural Album of the Year at the Americana Music Awards.

The album features cover songs composed by folk/rock legends as well as original material. They open with an excellent take on Richard Thompson’s “Keep Your Distance,” which I came to know four years later through Patty Loveless. I also enjoyed their beautiful rendition of the Utah Phillips classic “Rock, Salt, Nails,” a song I hadn’t heard before. They unfortunately misstep with Bob Dylan’s “Wallflower.” The duo turned a simple country song into a loud mess.

Julie solely composed the remainder of the album, save one song. “You Make My Heart Beat Too Fast” is pure aggressive rock & roll, with Julie’s distinctive voice leading the way. The similarly uptempo “Rachael” is much more tasteful and falls within the appealing sonic vein of “Keep Your Distance.”

“Forever Has Come to an End” is a stunning country ballad about a guy lamenting the end of his marriage. They forgo the fiddle and steel, but the aching sincerity of the lyric perfectly shines through. “That’s Just How She Cries” is a strong lyric, but the arraignment is missing the flavor necessary to give it appealing texture. The same blandness mares “Holding Up The Sky.” The track prominently features an acoustic guitar that doesn’t really do anything to elevate the song in any significant way.

My trouble with Buddy and Julie Miller lies in the simple fact it isn’t a country album at all. I certainly see the quality in the songs, but the arrangements significantly hold me back from truly enjoying the album as a whole. But I did love “Forever Has Come to an End” and their cover of “Keep Your Distance” was very, very good.

There just isn’t much else that was truly appealing to my ears. Does that make Buddy and Julie Miller a bad album? Not in the least. Although it isn’t my personal taste, I can still clearly see why it’s been so lauded. I recommend seeking it out in order for you to make your own judgments.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind – Mickey Gilley and Charly McClain – ‘Paradise Tonight’

Single Review: Vince Gill – ‘Take Me Down’

gill-pub_hires_2_lg_wide-9ee349425fd113510d77574f8280a73deb9f1543-s900-c85Vince Gill has reached the stage in his career when he can record pretty much what he wants with no particular need to pander to commercial considerations.  Sometimes  that’s a good thing for an artist, at others it may lead to self-indulgence.

While I wouldn’t call this new single self-indulgent, it does represent a side of Vince’s artistry which isn’t my favourite. A mellow mid tempo ballad, it is beautifully sung with Vince’s vocals at their warmest and sweetest. The lyric is both romantic and sexy, lauding an existing relationship which has lost none of its fire. The production is understated and allows the voice to shine. The downside for me is that the admittedly pretty melody and arrangement are country at its most sophisticated, AC leaning.

Vince co-wrote the song with Nashville based former pop star Richard Marx, with whom he has worked before, and with Jillian Jacqueline, an aspiring artist Marx is producing. You may possibly remember her as a child back in 2001, billed just as Jillian, when she contributed to a low-charting single by Billy Dean and Suzy Bogguss called ‘Keep Mom And Dad In Love’.

It’s pleasant enough to listen to, and if not viewed through my traditional-leaning country fan ears would be a very fine offering. But it doesn’t really appeal to me viscerally. Little Big Town add harmonies, but if anything they flatten out the emotional impact for me.

This is hard to review, because objectively it is extremely well done and there is no substantive criticism I can make. If it falls short for me, that feels more like a failure on my part to appreciate it.

Grade: A-/B depending on whether it’s judged as a country song.

Classic Rewind: Goldie Hill – ‘Sample My Kissin”

Album Review: Buddy Miller – ‘Cruel Moon’

1999’s Cruel Moon was another excellent slice of Americana cruel moonflavored country (or possibly country-flavored Americana) from Buddy Miller. Brilliant musicianship, high quality songwriting, instinctively tasteful production and vocals which while not the smoothest are strongly emotional and sell the songs: what more could one ask for?

The outstanding ‘Does My Ring Burn Your Finger’ (written by Buddy with wife Julie) is a modern classic, also having been recorded by Lee Ann Womack and others including soul singer Solomon Burke on his Miller-produced Nashville set. The lyric calls to mind the Charley Price 1960s classic ‘Does My Ring Hurt Your Finger’, but the newer song is fiercer and edgier as he accusingly questions a restless spouse,

Does my ring burn your finger?
Did my love weigh you down?
Was a promise too much to keep around?

Julie was Buddy’s most frequent co-writer on this album, also co-ring the graceful, melodic waltz which lends the album its title. Emmylou Harris (for whom Buddy had been playing lead guitar) provides her distinctive harmony on this gorgeous pure country tune. They also wrote the sad but pretty-sounding ‘In Memory Of My Heart’, a wistful ballad on which Julie sings the harmony. ‘I’m Too Used To Lovin’ You’ is another very good song written by the couple.

The writing partnership was joined by Jim Lauderdale for a couple of songs. ‘Looking For A Heartache Like You’ is rhythmically catchy and upbeat, and was later recorded by Patty Loveless. In contrast, ‘Sometimes I Cry’ is imbued with a raw pain.

Buddy did not rely solely on his own songs for this album. The energetic and catchy ‘Love Match’ was written by Paul Kennerley; this uses boxing as a metaphor for falling in love and features a martial beat and guest vocals from Steve Earle, another of his former employers. While that song is archetypical Steve Earle in its sound, Buddy also chooses to cover one of Earle’s finest ballads, ‘I’m Not Getting Any Better At Goodbye’. Mark Chesnutt’s cut is still my favourite version of that song, but Buddy’s vulnerable take is excellent too, backed by a sparse arrangement.

‘I’m Gonna Be Strong’ is a classy 60s pop ballad with a soothing melody, which was most successful for Gene Pitney. While Buddy isn’t a conventionally great vocalist, he invests this song with strong emotions, backed by the harmony vocals of Joy Lynn White. Buddy turns to bluesy gospel with Pop Staples’ ‘It’s Been A Change’. Julie Miller’s ‘Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go’ (later covered by Miranda Lambert) is an up-tempo relentless rock-edged number with a reverb-heavy production, which is very well done of its kind but not one of my favorites.

This is an excellent album which I strongly recommend.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Buddy Miller – ‘All My Tears’

Week ending 2/6/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

maxresdefault-21956 (Sales): Sixteen Tons — Tennessee Ernie Ford (Capitol)

1956 (Jukebox): Sixteen Tons — Tennessee Ernie Ford (Capitol)

1956 (Disc Jockeys): Love, Love, Love — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1966: Giddyup Go — Red Sovine (Starday)

1976: Convoy — C.W. McCall (MGM)

1986: Just In Case — The Forester Sisters (Warner Bros)

1996: (If You’re Not In It For Love) I’m Outta Here — Shania Twain (Mercury)

2006: Jesus, Take The Wheel — Carrie Underwood (Arista)

2016: Die a Happy Man — Thomas Rhett (Valory)

2016 (Airplay): Die a Happy Man — Thomas Rhett (Valory)

Classic Rewind: Melba Montgomery – ‘Think I’ll Go Somewhere (And Cry Myself To Sleep)’

Classic Rewind: Tanya Tucker – ‘If Your Heart Ain’t Busy Tonight’

Album Review: Buddy Miller – ‘Poison Love’

51qFXeDUyiL._AA320_QL65_Buddy Miller and I are contemporaries, Buddy being five months younger than I am, meaning that we probably listened to a lot of the same music growing up. If this album is any indication, I am certain that we did.

Under slightly different circumstances he might have been a country star during the 1970s like Johnny Rodriguez (ten months older than Buddy) or during the 1980s like George Strait (four months older than Buddy). Instead Buddy took a while to reach solo artist status, working for years in various bands for various other stars, most notably Emmylou Harris.

Poison Love might be categorized as a country album or as an Americana album, although with steel guitar on nine of the thirteen tracks, I’m inclined to call it country. Miller actually covers three classic country tunes on the album, but I initially thought there were a couple of more since several of the songs Buddy composed used the titles of old country classics (song titles cannot be copyrighted), those being being “Draggin’ The River” and “I Can’t Help It”.

The album opens up with a song composed by Roger Miller and George Jones titled “Nothing Can Stop Me”. I don’t think George ever issued this as a single, so I think it possible that Buddy came to the song via an early 1970s recording by Patsy Sledd, who was an opening act for George and Tammy when they had their Plantation Music Park in Lakeland, Florida. Anyway, Buddy does a nice job with this up-tempo country number. Fiddle and steel guitar abound along with electric guitar the way it should be played. If you want to hear a quintessentially happy upbeat country romp, this song is it:

I gotta get up, I gotta get goin’, rain or shine, sleetin’ or snowin’
Nothing can stop me, stop me, stop my loving you
Wander through woods, climb a high mountain
Love’s in my heart like water’s in a fountain
Nothing can stop me, stop me, stop my loving you

Cross the fire, walk through the river, you’ll be the taker and I’ll be the giver
I’ll give you lovin’, lovin’, honey that’s what I’ll do
Climb a big wall, I’d tear into pieces, I gotta get to your loving kisses
Nothing can stop me, stop me, stop my loving you

 Next up is “100 Million Little Bombs”, definitely not a country song:

Three dollar bombs a 100 thousand more

Steps of a child and the ground explodes

You can’t clear one before another reloads

To ratchet up the ante again.
They’re cheap and they’re simple

They’re green and black

They’ll take you right down on a one way track

We’ve gone so far now that we can’t get back

And we still won’t stop this train


The sound of the song is pleasant enough, although the song is too political for country radio, even today. This is followed up by “Don’t Tell Me” a more conventional country song. Both of these songs were composed by Buddy and his wife Julie Miller and feature harmony vocals by Emmylou Harris.
    
 The title track is “Poison Love” a Johnnie Wright and Jack Anglin classic (Johnnie was Kitty Wells’ husband for 60+ years). Johnnie & Jack did the song with a rumba beat whereas Buddy’s instrumentation is more that of Cajun music. It’s a great recording, possibly my favorite track on the album. Steve Earle sings with Buddy on this track.

Next up is a Buddy & Julie Miller collaboration, “Baby Don’t Let Me Down”. I like the song although I think the electric organ adds nothing to the song:

Start up the engine and get back home

Hurry go tell mother

Johnny got a gun to shoot a squirrel

He put down your brother

Daddy ain’t nowhere to be found
 It’s getting way past midnight

Momma she’s left here to cry alone

While I steal a kiss in the moonlight


”Love Grows Wild” is another Buddy and Julie co-write, this one with a more bluegrassy feel thank to Tammy Rogers on fiddle and mandolin.

Jim Lauderdale joined Buddy in writing “Love In The Ruins” a very country number with plenty of fiddle and steel:

Love in the ruins

After the fall

What were we doing not thinking at all

I’ll take the chair for there’s no one to blame

Someone just called me or was that just your name

But regret is a debt that I just can’t pay

Cause it would be more than I could ever make

Turn left when we get to that place in the road

Or we’ll be on the one we shouldn’t take

“Draggin’ The River” is a pretty good song, although not as good as the Warner Mack song of the same title. A bit morose, this song can be interpreted in several ways, so I’ll let you pik your own interpretation. This song strikes me as more Americana than county:

Go down to the water and listen for a sound

Something like the moaning of a dove

That’s where I do my crying while I’m searching for a sign

Draggin’ the river of our love
Did she bear some secret sorrow I could never know
 T
hat why my heart was not enough
 Now she’s left me looking for a trace of what we had

Draggin’ the river of our love

If you think the Roosevelt Jameson composition “That’s How Strong My Love Is” seems familiar, you are probably correct, as the song was a powerful song in the hands of both the original recording artist O.V. Wright (1964), and the soulful titan who covered it in 1965, Otis Redding. It would be nearly impossible to be as soulful as either Wright or Redding, and Buddy certainly isn’t, but he gives the song a very convincing interpretation. The song has been recorded numerous times and Buddy’s version stacks up well against any of the other covers I’ve heard (Rolling Stones, Hollies, Percy Sledge, Bryan Ferry, Taj Mahal):

I’ll be the weeping willow drowning in my tears
And you can go swimming when you’re here
I’ll be the rainbow when the tears have gone
Wrap you in my colors and keep you warm

‘Cause that’s how strong my love is
That’s how strong my love is
That’s how strong my love is
That’s how strong my love is

The album closes out with a pair of Buddy and Julie collaborations in “Lonesome For You” and “I Can’t Help It” and a Buddy Miller co-write with Jim Lauderdale on “Love Snuck Up”. All three songs hew country.

Everything considered Poison Love is a solid country album, for a person who would have few actual hits but would ultimate carve a wide path in country music. The of the thirteen songs are solidly country, and the other three are close enough to country that even a diehard traditionalist such as myself found the album entirely satisfying. Great songs, great musician and some pretty good vocalists.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Lee Ann Womack ft Buddy Miller – ‘Don’t Tell Me’

Single Review: Wynonna Judd feat. Jason Isbell – ‘Things That I Lean On’

wynonna-793x526The old adage about even a blind squirrel occasionally finding a nut is apparently true; after more than two decades of releasing bland pop music, Wynonna Judd has finally stumbled across a good song. It’s not clear if if “Things That I Lean On”, written by Travis Meadows and Daniel Sanders is an official radio single, but it is one of a handful of tracks from her upcoming album Wynonna & The Big Noise that is available for download ahead of the album’s official release on February 12th.

The track was produced by Wynonna’s husband and Highway 101 member Cactus Moser. Despite the album title’s reference to a “big noise”, there is nothing noisy but this stripped down, and largely acoustic number. The tastefully understated production features an acoustic guitar, some quiet percussion, a little fiddle, and some subtle background courtesy of Jason Isbell, which allow the listener to focus on Wynonna’s powerful voice and the song’s message. Yes, believe it or not, a major label country artist in 2016 has released a song that actually says something. While not a traditional country song (although she does name drop Conway Twitty), the Celtic-flavored number visits some tried and true country themes — temptation, chemical dependency, twelve step programs, faith and prayer, and ultimately redemption.

Wynonna hasn’t had a charting in over a decade and it’s unlikely that this will turn her commercial fortunes around, but it may be the beginning of a new, more artistic phase of her career. I didn’t love every track from the upcoming album that was available for preview on iTunes but I expect that it will contain at least a few more gems. Here’s to hoping that Wynonna has finally gotten around to releasing that evergreen record that we’ve always known she was capable of.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Suzy Bogguss and Billy Dean – ‘Something Up My Sleeve’

Album Review: Buddy Miller – ‘Your Love and Other Lies’

71+O5-9t0GL._SX522_Released in 1995, Your Love and Other Lies was Buddy Miller’s first solo album, and the first of six to be released over the next decade on the HighTone label. A prior recording – Man on the Moon, also released in 1995 – was credited to Buddy Miller and the Sacred Cows on the obscure Coyote label, and is difficult to find today.

Miller has enjoyed great success in the Americana realm but is largely unknown to mainstream audiences, despite being highly regarded by some of the most prominent names in Nashville. I always find it interesting to speculate why artists like this didn’t enjoy mainstream success. He is a decent, though somewhat limited vocalist, and although the rootsy Your Love and Other Lies was less polished than what country radio wanted, even twenty years ago, it was not as far outside the mainstream at that time as it is today. His age – 43 at the time of this album’s release –may have been an obstacle, but the main reason Buddy Miller never made it as a mainstream major label act is that he doesn’t seem to have ever made any attempt to do so. For those of us who enjoy roots music made with little or no concessions to commercial tastes, this is a very good thing.

Miller had a hand in writing about half of the album’s 13 songs, some of them with his wife Julie, who also contributed two solo compositions and provided harmony vocals on some of the tracks. His good friend Jim Lauderdale also made two contributions (one co-write and one solo composition).

The two songs most likely to be familiar to mainstream country fans – or at least those of a certain age – are very nice covers of the Louvin Brothers’ “You’re Running Wild” and Tom T. Hall’s “That’s How I Got to Memphis”. Julie’s harmony vocals on the former are spectacular. The latter was recorded by the songwriter himself in 1969, and was a #3 hit for Bobby Bare the following year. It has been covered numerous times since then. I’m tempted to say that it’s my favorite cut on the album, but it’s a tough call. I’m likely partial to it because it’s more familiar to me. Additionally, there are quite a few other contenders , beginning with the opening track “You Wrecked Up My Heart”, a Buddy/Julie co-write that sounds like something that Patty Loveless might have included on one of her 90s albums. To my knowledge, none of these songs were covered by the mainstream artists of the day, which is somewhat surprising.

Julie’s solo composition “Don’t Listen to the Wind” with its fiddle-intro has a Celtic feel to it. Jim Lauderdale’s “Hold On My Love” , featuring harmony vocals by Emmylou Harris, is reminiscent of The Everly Brothers, and Buddy’s solo effort “Watching Amy Dance” is a tear-jerker about an abandoned husband who doesn’t miss his ex but is pining away for the daughter with whom he has lost contact.

I’m less impressed with the album’s two most contemporary numbers: the rock-tinged “I Can’t Slow Down” and “Hole In My Head”. The latter is catchy and sounds like a summertime single for a mainstream artist but the lyrics are on the shallow side.

Although considered by many to be an Americana album, Your Love and Other Lies has plenty of fiddle and pedal steel and is exactly what many of us wish we could hear on country radio. I highly recommend it.
Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Jim & Jesse – ‘A Violet And A Rose’

Album Review: The Cactus Blossoms – ‘You’re Dreaming’

youre dreamingThe Cactus Blossoms are Jack Torrey and Page Burkum, a pair of brothers from Minneapolis who discovered a deep love for the country music of the 1950s and formed their duo in2009. Their fresh, timeless music is something like a mixture of the Louvin Brothers and the Everlys. This album,their first for Red House records after a couple of self-releases, was recorded in live takes in Chicago with simple, stripped down arrangements allowing their sibling harmonies to take center stage. Oklahoma singer-songwriter J D McPherson (a Rounder artist also worth checking out) produces sympathetically.

Their material is mostly written by Jack Torrey, one of the brothers (he changed his stage name), who writes literate, poetic lyrics and delicate, pretty. melodies, which work petrfectly with the close sibling harmonies. The opening ‘Stoplight Kisses’, which was a single last year, is an engaging upbeat number remiscent of the Everly Brothers.

The title track is a dreamy ballad which is rather lovely. Equally sweet is the gently romantic ‘Queen Of Them All’. ‘Mississippi’ is mellow and atmospheric.

‘Clown Collector’ picks up the pace a bit, but while a solid tune, is the least effective track on a very good album.

There is another change of mood with the wailing hillbilly blues of ‘Change Your Ways Or Die’, which is one of my favourite tracks, and sounds like something Hank Williams might have written:

The buffalo was here to stay
Til a fool with a gun came and took him away
If you go too far you can’t come back
When the river changes so does the map

You’ve got to change your ways or die…

A sip of whiskey gets your toes wet
If you dive too deep you’ll get caught in a net
Love and fire burn to the core

Also downbeat lyrically, but more gentle in its sound, is ‘If I Can’t Win’. The very pretty ‘Adios Maria’ is a sad story song about love and loss remiscent of Marty Robbins.

Brother Page Burkum contributed one tune – the beautiful, languid love song ‘Powder Blue’. There is one cover thrown in, ‘No More Crying The Blues’, a rockabilly tune from 1959, written and originally recorded by Sun duo Alton & Jimmy. The song works well and offers a nice change of pace.

The album closes with the wistfully valedictory ‘Traveler’s Prayer’.

I strongly recommend this album to anyone who like their country music subtle.

Grade: A

The duo is touring in northern states this month, some dates supporting Kacey Musgraves.

Classic Rewind: Sylvia – ‘Breakin’ It’

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