Posts Tagged ‘Reviews’
In two short years, Johnny Mathis will likely celebrate his 60th anniversary with Columbia Records, a towering achievement by any standard. But even the strongest marriages must sometimes weather separations, as was the case when the vocalist jumped ship to rival Mercury Records for the period between 1963 and 1967. At Mercury, Mathis formed Global Productions to administer his master recordings, and recorded some eleven albums (only ten of which were originally released) under its aegis. Upon his return to Columbia, a select few of Mathis’ Mercury recordings were reintroduced to the catalogue; the others remained dormant. A 2-CD set, The Global Masters, arrived in 1997 as an overview of this period, and in 2012, Real Gone Music finally reissued the ten original albums, and the eleventh shelved album, in full. Now, Legacy Recordings has released The Complete Global Albums Collection with all eleven LPs plus two more discs of bonus material, more than half of which has never previously seen the light of day. Within the compact, nondescript package, the box set contains some of the most beguiling music ever recorded by the velvet-voiced singer. And as the 1963-1967 period birthed some of the most seismic shifts in popular music, the box also traces the evolution of the Mathis style as he transitioned from Broadway and Hollywood standards to contemporary pop without sacrificing his rich, warm vibrato or the manner in which he caressed a lyric.
At Mercury, Mathis didn’t veer too far from the richly romantic ballad style that made him famous. He made the decision to self-produce a number of his albums, modestly reflecting in his specially-penned liner notes that “I tried to do what I could, but I had no idea what would be good for the market.” Crucially, though, he enlisted a number of the arrangers with whom he had worked at Columbia, including Don Costa and Glenn Osser.
Costa helmed Mathis’ Mercury debut, 1963’s The Sounds of Christmas, which is only now premiering on CD as part of this set in its original format. Columbia’s past LP and CD reissues retitled the album Christmas with Johnny Mathis and dropped two songs (“The Little Drummer Boy” and “Have Reindeer, Will Travel”). Both are happily reinstated here. The collaboration between singer Mathis, arranger Osser and producer Costa resulted in one of Mathis’ strongest and most diverse holiday sets – with spiritual songs, Tin Pan Alley favorites and novelties all represented.
Most of Mathis’ earliest Mercury albums concentrated on Broadway and Hollywood repertoire, exquisitely sung and lushly arranged, from songwriters of the past and present: Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen (“Call Me Irresponsible”) Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart (“A Ship Without a Sail”), Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe (“Camelot”), Charles Strouse and Lee Adams (“Put on a Happy Face”). Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin (“Long Ago and Far Away”) and Jay Livingston and Ray Evans (“Never Let Me Go”) among them. The smart and sophisticated songs of Bart Howard also made a striking impression on these albums. Mathis championed his friend by recording such compositions as “Forget Me Not,” “Sky Full of Rainbows,” “What Do You Feel in Your Heart,” “Fantastic,” “Tomorrow Song,” “A Thousand Blue Bubbles.”
The most radical long-player of The Global Albums is 1964’s adventurous Olé, arranged by Allyn Ferguson. On this true departure of a record, Mathis performed a number of Latin American songs in their original language. These weren’t just much-covered songs from the bossa nova boom (although he did record Luis Bonfá’s “Manha de Carneval”) but also light classical pieces from the likes of Heitor Villa-Lobos and even Desi Arnaz’ signature “Babalu.”
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It’s an early “Happy New Year” from Real Gone Music, as the label has just announced its January 6 slate! Look for a full rundown soon on a super slate featuring two classic RCA albums from The Main Ingredient, the complete Atlantic recordings of Jackie Moore (Sweet Charlie Babe), a hilarious (and need we say profane?) comedy classic from Redd Foxx, a vintage 1981 Grateful Dead concert, and two soundtracks from the films of auteur Alejandro Jodorowsky! Full details are coming up, but we’re first taking a look at a recent release from The Shirelles!
The first major female group of the rock and roll era, The Shirelles claimed the first girl group No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Discovered in New Jersey by Florence Greenberg’s daughter Mary Jane, the group laid the cornerstone for Greenberg’s Scepter Records family of labels – later home to Dionne Warwick, B.J. Thomas, Chuck Jackson, Maxine Brown, Ronnie Milsap and The Kingsmen – and paved the way for the Motown revolution with their blend of uptown soul, pop, and street corner harmonies. This potent combination, of course, found the quartet – Shirley Alston, Beverly Lee, Doris Coley (Kenner) and Addie (Micki) Harris – “crossing over” to the predominantly white audience and quietly breaking down barriers of gender and race with an intoxicating series of pop songs from some of the greatest songwriters of all time. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Baby It’s You,” “Soldier Boy” and “Foolish Little Girl” were just a few of the triumphs of The Shirelles. But the times they were a-changin’, and the group’s lawsuit against Greenberg over allegedly unpaid royalties led them to be considered persona non grata around Scepter. With Doris Kenner’s departure in 1966, The Shirelles were a trio, and in 1968, the label dropped them altogether. Further singles followed for Blue Rock, Bell and United Artists before their signing to the venerable RCA label in 1971 for a pair of albums which have just received their first-ever reissues from Real Gone Music and SoulMusic Records on one CD: Happy and in Love and Shirelles.
Happy and in Love aimed for a modern R&B sound and appropriately upped the funk quotient from the girls’ earlier singles. Perhaps it wasn’t a radical enough reinvention to have succeeded in a major way, but Happy, like its follow-up Shirelles, makes for a completely enjoyable listen in this sterling two-for-one package. Producer Randy Irwin assembled the album with tracks culled from Bell and United Artists as well as new recordings. The album’s sole single was “No Sugar Tonight,” a loose and brassy reworking of The Guess Who’s hit single (likely not coincidentally also on RCA). It was backed by a song from The Ice Man, Jerry Butler, written and recorded during his Philadelphia days. “Strange, I Still Love You,” co-written by MFSB member and ace producer-arranger Norman Harris, was swathed in luxuriant strings by arranger George Andrews for The Shirelles; it’s one of the strongest cuts on the LP.
There are other Philly connections on Happy and in Love. A second Jerry Butler song was tackled via the dramatic “Go Away and Find Yourself,” a former Bell Records release co-written with the legendary Kenny Gamble. “Boy You’re Too Young” was written by Gamble with Thom Bell and Archie Bell (no relation to each other or the label!) and has that familiar Philly-soul swing. More urgent is “There’s Nothing in This World,” with strings vying for supremacy with drums, and the Motown/Stax meld of Jr. Walker’s “Gotta Hold On to This Feeling” with Eddie Floyd’s “I’ve Never Found a Boy” (or a “Girl,” in Floyd’s original.)
After the jump: more on Happy and in Love, plus Shirelles!
“Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy,” goes one of John Denver’s most well-known songs. In a little over five minutes – and even less in its single version – “Sunshine” touches on many of the themes most important to the singer-songwriter: nature, love, beauty. Throughout the course of a career sadly cut short when he perished in a plane crash in 1997 aged just 53, Denver revisited these themes over and over again, using his pure, crystalline tone to bring comfort and spread a message of peace. With his boyish good looks, gentle voice and enthusiasm for music and nature, he was one of the preeminent pop voices of the 1970s, incorporating folk and country influences into his popular material. Legacy Recordings and Denver’s longtime label, RCA, have recently celebrated his enduring gifts of song with the release of a new box set, All of My Memories: The John Denver Collection. This 4-CD, 90-track box set revises and expands upon Denver’s last retrospective box, 1997’s The Country Roads Collection. Whereas that set was limited to the troubadour’s RCA years, this box also takes in the earliest part of his career and his post-RCA recordings for labels including Sony, Windstar and MCA.
Two-time Grammy winner Denver charted more than 40 Billboard Hot 100, AC and Country songs from 1971 to 1988, and this box set naturally features a number of them, most notably his twangy sing-along breakthrough “Take Me Home, Country Roads” (No. 2 Pop/No. 3 AC/No. 50 Country, 1971), the sweet “Sunshine on My Shoulders” (No. 1 Pop/No. 1 AC/No. 42 Country, 1974), the euphoric “Rocky Mountain High” (No. 9 Pop/No. 3 AC, 1972), the joyful “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” (No. 1 Pop/No. 5 AC/No. 1 Country, 1975) and the lush, sensual ode to his then-wife, “Annie’s Song” (No. 1 Pop/No. 1 AC/No. 9 Country, 1974). Many of Denver’s own compositions are, naturally, featured alongside tracks composed by Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert (who co-wrote “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “I Guess He’d Rather Be In Colorado”), Buddy Holly (“Everyday”), John Prine (“Blow Up Your TV (Spanish Pipe Dream)”), Joe Henry, and others. This career overview also takes in key album tracks, live performances, and rarities including promotional-only and privately-pressed tracks. In addition, six songs make their first appearances anywhere on this set. Typical for a collection of this nature, the lesser-known material is the most fascinating.
Somewhat startlingly, Denver’s familiar, warm voice is instantly recognizable and his style almost fully-formed on Disc One’s first two tracks. Both are previously unissued demos from an October 1964 Capitol session produced by The New Christy Minstrels’ founder, Randy Sparks. “This Road,” from Sparks’ own pen, and Morgan Ames’ “Far Side of the Hill,” are lushly orchestrated with strings and background singers in the popular folk-pop style of the day, but Denver effortlessly sails above the ornamentation with a confident vibrato and earnest delivery. (The arrangements were by “Our Day Will Come” composer Mort Garson.) These qualities would serve him well down his own road – a road that Sparks helped set him on when he insisted that the young artist change his name from Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr.! John took his new moniker both from his favorite state and from The New Christy Minstrels’ “Denver,” the first single from the singing group’s second album! The box also has highlights from his tenure with The Chad Mitchell Trio.
The original, previously unissued version of “Rhymes and Reasons” is included here as recorded for Reprise Records in 1968. It was later re-recorded for Denver’s RCA debut later that year with the same producer – Milton Okun, with whom Denver would forge a strong bond and association that would last for years. The Reprise version lacks the prominent piano part of the RCA version and has a different sonic character. It’s not radically dissimilar, but sheds light on Denver’s developing style. (A couple of other rare tracks come from Denver’s Reprise period – both sides of Denver, Boise and Johnson’s 1968 single featuring the rollicking political novelty “The ’68 Nixon (This Year’s Model)” and the folk-rock of “Take Me to Tomorrow.”)
There’s plenty more after the jump!
1967: Jimi Hendrix asks, “Are You Experienced?” The Beatles plead, “Let me take you down” to “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Brian Wilson spins a yarn of “Heroes and Villains.” The Summer of Love is in full swing, and psychedelia is in the air. Fast forward one year. In July, The Band releases Music from Big Pink. Reportedly, hearing the album convinces Eric Clapton to leave Cream. The ripples of its influence would be felt in the ranks of The Beatles and Pink Floyd. The next month, in August, The Byrds unveil Sweetheart of the Rodeo, arguably the first major country-rock album by an established band. There’s nary a whiff of patchouli. But neither Big Pink and Sweetheart – nor countless albums that followed in their footsteps – would likely have existed, at least as they’re now known, if not for The Basement Tapes.
Big Pink introduced the world to “I Shall Be Released” and “Tears of Rage,” and included “This Wheel’s on Fire.” Rodeo began with “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and ended with “Nothing Was Delivered.” All of those songs were composed and first recorded by Bob Dylan and the group that would become The Band in a fertile period of recording from March 1967 to February 1968 (with some breaks in that period). Yet, The Basement Tapes – en toto, the whole enchilada – have remained largely unreleased, until now. Just how these recordings became more influential than most platinum-selling hit records is one of music’s enduring mysteries. Would a full commercial release of this “cosmic American music” (to steal from Gram Parsons) diminish its mystique? The answer, happily, is no. The new Columbia/Legacy release of The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes: Complete, over six CDs, should quickly become the cornerstone of many a musical library and the key to a deeper understanding of not only its artists – who pushed the envelope by looking back as well as forward – but of an entire period of popular music and culture.
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In his illuminating new memoir Through the Eye of the Tiger, Jim Peterik writes of the moment he first bore witness to the cover artwork of his debut album with his band The Ides of March, 1970’s Vehicle: “When we saw it there was an audible gasp and then an ‘Oh shit! This stinks!’ We wondered out loud what some perverted ‘genius’ was thinking when on the cover of our life’s work he put an image of a naked baby doll abandoned carelessly in a field with an ominous black sedan lurking in the background…We were apoplectic.” Indeed, the offbeat cover– which Peterik recalls kept the album off the shelves at the retail chain Korvette’s due to its “tasteless” imagery – hardly calls to mind a hot, young Chicago band with a set of brassy, muscular pop-rock originals inspired by Blood, Sweat and Tears. Real Gone Music has restored to print the band’s first Warner Bros. album on a new, expanded reissue with four bonus tracks.
Jim Peterik (lead vocals/lead guitar), Larry Millas (keyboards/guitar/bass/vocals), Mike Borch (drums/percussion/vocals) and Bob Bergland (bass/saxophone/vocals) had, since 1965, been steadily working on their craft, first as The Shondels and then as The Ides of March. Recording for the Parrot label and playing venues from sock hops to clubs, the band developed its own sound from roots in Hollies and Kinks-inspired white R&B. Peterik was finding his own voice as a songwriter, too, honed from years of performing covers of songs by James Brown, The Beatles, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, Traffic and the Buffalo Springfield. Joined by Ray Herr (guitar/bass/vocals), John Larson (trumpet/flugelhorn) and Chuck Soumar (trumpet/vocals), the band entered Chicago’s Columbia Studios to record an album of both originals and time-tested covers that had worked well onstage and fit into the “heavier” sound the band was cultivating.
The title track of Vehicle, of course, was destined to be the band’s calling card. With its indelible blast of brass offering up a killer riff, it was also the first major hit song for Peterik (No. 2 in the U.S.) who would go on to pen further anthems like “Eye of the Tiger” (No. 1, 1982) and “The Search is Over” (No. 4, 1985) for his later band Survivor. With crack support from Millas’ organ, Borch’s drums, and the three horns, Peterik channeled BS&T’s David Clayton-Thomas on the title track, tearing into its over-the-top, sexually-charged lyrics. He candidly admits in Richie Unterberger’s excellent liner notes that the Canadian soul man was his vocal “idol,” and appropriately enough, it was an American Idol that helped push “Vehicle” back into the spotlight in 2005. Though “Vehicle” had been covered previously by everybody from Shirley Bassey to Chet Baker, Bo Bice’s performance of the song catapulted it back into the popular culture and onto classic rock radio, where it remains today. “Vehicle” was one of four songs recorded by the Ides of March on the demo that was sent to Warner Bros.; the searing, similarly brass-infused “The Sky is Falling” from the same tape also made the cut for the album. (A third of the demo tracks, “Lead Me Home Gently” was released as a single and is also included here by Real Gone.)
But Vehicle, the album, isn’t a one-trick vehicle. The wealth of experience Peterik and the Ides had gained playing everybody else’s hits allowed them to create a group of diverse songs drawing on varied influences. While “Bald Medusa” traded in the same double entendre and horn-fuelled sound as “Vehicle,” “Factory Band” was an homage to Creedence Clearwater Revival. The Ides captured that band’s signature chooglin’ rhythm and Peterik traded his David Clayton-Thomas belt for a John Fogerty yelp without resorting to imitation. The beautifully-arranged ballad “Home” has an early Neil Diamond feel crossed with The Righteous Brothers’ Goffin/King hit “I Can’t Make It Alone,” with sympathetic strings giving added lift to the yearning track. (The Ides of March once opened for Neil Diamond. In his book, Peterik recalls the solitary man advising him succinctly if sharply: “Next time, boys, only play your best material.” The Ides took the message to heart.) “One Woman Man” was released prior to Vehicle, the album, and was the Ides of March’s first single. It remains a mystery why the band didn’t catch fire with such a strong selection. Melding the rich harmonies of The Association with the Ides’ developing horn sound (and another memorable trumpet riff), it’s one of the strongest tracks on Vehicle.
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It may seem unbelievable, but it’s been nearly 25 years since Stevie Ray Vaughan perished at the age of 35, victim of a helicopter crash. Yet it’s a testament to the guitar slinger’s blazing talent that his musicianship even today remains a high watermark for those playing his instrument. A six-time Grammy winner and inductee into the Blues Hall of Fame and Musicians Hall of Fame, the Texas native created music that is as vibrant and stirring today as when it was first committed to tape. The Legacy Recordings/Epic Records release of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble’s The Complete Epic Recordings Collection (8884 309142 2) makes the guitarist’s core catalogue available in one package for the first time. The 12-CD set contains nine albums on 10 CDs (including the 2-disc Live at Montreux) all recorded between 1980 and 1989, the year before his untimely death. These albums are sequenced, for the most part, in order of performance, not of release. Two Archives CDs of odds and ends (outtakes, alternates, jams and more) culled from various compilations and reissues round out the set.
As Vaughan and Double Trouble only left behind four studio albums (Texas Flood, Couldn’t Stand the Weather, Soul to Soul and In Step), much of this compendium is dedicated to live material. But seeing as how Vaughan’s talent shone most brightly in a live setting, this is far from a handicap. When David Bowie saw Vaughan at Montreux in 1982, he promptly enlisted him to play on his smash “Let’s Dance.” The first track on the first disc in this box – Freddie King and Sonny Thompson’s “In the Open” from 1992’s posthumous In the Beginning, recorded for radio in 1980 with a line-up including Jackie Newhouse on bass and Chris Layton on drums – has an apropos title. Once Stevie (he hadn’t yet acquired the Ray) Vaughan played his axe in the open, there was no going back. Even in this embryonic set from his home state of Texas, Vaughan had all of the ingredients that would lead to his eventual success: inventive and deeply felt phrasing, technical skill, a distinctive tone, and the ability to bring joie de vivre to the blues. Throughout his career, Vaughan also used effects pedals conservatively, giving him a pure, raw sound.
At the Texas show preserved on In the Beginning, original songs sat comfortably alongside those by the masters like King, Willie Dixon, Otis Rush and Howlin’ Wolf, with Vaughan’s style recognizably in blues tradition but with enough edge and immediacy to captivate a modern audience. With a seemingly endless supply of lacerating licks, Vaughan showed off his innate swing on the boogie-woogie strut of “They Call Me Guitar Hurricane” and conjured up high-octane Chuck Berry riffs of “Love Struck Baby.” He could also bring things down and still rivet as on “Tin Pan Alley (a.k.a. Roughest Place in Town).” Besides his instrumental skills, Vaughan could also belt the blues convincingly. Having the “whole package,” it’s no wonder that legendary A&R man and producer John Hammond, Sr. (veteran of artists from Benny Goodman to Bruce Springsteen!) championed the young artist at Epic.
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That Jackie DeShannon is one of the most gifted singer-songwriters in popular music should come as no surprise to anybody reading this. Equally skilled at interpreting her own songs as well as those of others, the multi-talented Miss DeShannon was the concerned yet optimistic voice of “What the World Needs Now is Love,” the flower-power spokeswoman who implored you to “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” one of the first Ladies of the Canyon, and one-half of the songwriting team behind the eternally sensual “Bette Davis Eyes.” And that’s just naming a few of her accomplishments. Ace Records has celebrated DeShannon’s career on a series of her complete Liberty and Imperial singles as well as on a series of volumes recognizing her songwriting, the second of which has recently arrived. Take one glance at the list of artists populating She Did It! The Songs of Jackie DeShannon Volume 2 to get an idea of the breadth of her songwriting’s reach: The Carpenters, Marianne Faithfull, The Righteous Brothers, Olivia Newton-John, The Ronettes, Tammy Grimes, Kim Carnes (of course). The first volume, Break-A-Way: The Songs of Jackie DeShannon 1961-1967, had 27 of the more than 300 songs in her catalogue. In true Ace fashion, this set adds another 26, from the familiar (Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes”) to the obscure (Broadway star Grimes’ previously unissued “The Greener Side,” and the very first DeShannon cover, Brenda Lee’s bouncy, twangy “My Baby Likes Western Guys”). As DeShannon wrote as both a solo composer-lyricist and with other tunesmiths, there’s plenty of variety here, too.
Though most of Jackie’s songs from her halcyon days emanated from Metric Music, California’s answer to the Brill Building, they often ended up in surprising places. She Did It kicks off with southern soul singer supreme Doris Duke tackling the rootsy “Bad Water,” co-written by the “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” team of Jackie, her brother Randy Myers and singer Jimmy Holiday, as produced by Swamp Dogg in Alabama and arranged by Philadelphia’s Richard Rome. She Did It also spotlights the team’s aforementioned now-standard “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” as sung with equal parts passion and funk by ex-Edwin Hawkins Singers vocalist Dorothy Morrison and Holiday’s own, soulful rendition of 1969’s “Yesterday Died.” A true rarity comes from Myers’ band dubbed Raga and the Talas by Liberty Records imprint World Pacific. Jackie supplied her brother with “My Group and Me” in 1966, arranged in a then-cutting-edge Eastern-influenced style.
One of the most versatile of songwriters, She Did It features songs in pop, R&B, country and folk modes. In the latter, there are particularly wonderful discoveries in Bay Area duo Joe and Eddie’s “Depend on Yourself,” arranged by Leon Russell, Marianne Faithfull’s haunting 1966 rendition of Jackie’s “With You in Mind,” and an early recording by Delaney Bramlett of Delaney and Bonnie: the propulsive folk-rocker “You Have No Choice,” superbly produced as well as written by Jackie! As fans of her “Splendor in the Grass” with The Byrds know, DeShannon was a top proponent of the folk-rock sound. She Did It features another rarity in this vein, the very first 45 by beloved voice Olivia Newton-John: a version of Jackie’s “Till You Say You’ll Be Mine,” dating from 1966 – long before Grease and even before Toomorrow!
Jackie’s 1975 Columbia album New Arrangement, produced by Michael Stewart, proved a fertile source for a number of cover versions, three of which are included here. Rita Coolidge quickly latched onto the beautifully wistful “I Wanted It All,” co-written by Jackie and John Bettis. And then there’s “Bette Davis Eyes.” DeShannon admits in her sensational track-by-track recollections that producer Stewart envisioned the song as a shuffle, leaving it to producer Val Garay six years later to bring out the sex and the sass in the DeShannon/Donna Weiss tune. Kim Carnes’ raspy vocal was a perfect fit, and the song won Song of the Year and Record of the Year in addition to remaining atop the charts for nine weeks. It wasn’t a bad ending at all for a song which didn’t live up to its potential in its first recording. DeShannon had enlisted Brian Wilson for the background vocals on New Arrangement’s dreamy “Boat to Sail,” a song on which he’s actually name-checked in the lyrics. When The Carpenters revisited the escapist ode one year later in the version included here, the brother and sister duo brought their inimitable style to it. Karen’s invitingly warm and pure vocal evokes relaxed nostalgia, supported by Richard’s beautifully understated, tranquil orchestration.
Six songs here hail from the fruitful, early partnership of DeShannon and Sharon Sheeley including “It’s Just Terrible” (trust me, it isn’t) by Everly Brothers sound-alikes The Kalin Twins, the martial yet sensual ballad “Don’t Put Your Heart in His Hand” from young Kiki Dee, and the raucous “He Did It” from the pre-Phil Spector Ronettes. DeShannon and Sheeley’s “The Other Side of Town” is sung by P.J. Proby in full-on Elvis mode. If you ever wondered what The King might have sounded like crashing an uptown soul session by the likes of Chuck Jackson or Tommy Hunt, wonder no more. Here’s Proby as Elvis in a background of slashing, swirling strings and horns, doing full justice to the big ballad. Darlene Love has the lead on Spector’s production of “I Shook the World” for Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, but the fine liner notes reveal that the vocals were merely overdubbed on Jackie’s original demo as arranged by Spector’s usual right-hand, Jack Nitzsche.
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