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More Live at The Showboat 1963
More Live at The Showboat 1963
Price: £10.31

3.0 out of 5 stars Actually it's very good, 21 Jan. 2011
You will have read reviews hysterically damning the sound quality. I do not understand them, at all! The sound is similar to the previous Live At The Showboat album - in fact, superior, as there was some slight speed slippage on that album. I don't hear any phase-shifting either - there are tiny moments of "digital distortion", but tiny is the operative word. No scholarly fan of Coltrane - or jazz in general - will be troubled by the sound of this disc (certainly there are well-known airshots of Parker and Gillespie with far worse sound).

As for the performance: there's nothing as crushingly intense as the half-hour-plus "Impressions" on the previous volume, but Coltrane and Haynes still raise the temperature during the trio set [the bass is barely audible], with 'Trane largely avoiding the trap of rhythmically-monotonous phrasing that he was prone to. It's similar in tone to the performances on the "Afro Blue Impressions" album - and, like that album, it has a couple of surprises in the repertoire department: "Up 'Gainst The Wall" and "It's Easy To Remember" have almost never been heard live before (the latter is a real change of pace: Coltrane working off a "lomg-winded" chord sequence, as late as 1963!)

Coltrane's tentative solo piano improvisation beginning with "After The Rain" will have garnered the most attention, but it's the other pianist (when he finally arrives) who steals the show (in a way). This "Impressions" is obviously incomplete - just the beginning and end of what must have been another 30-minuter - but it allows us to hear an amazing solo from Tyner. I don't think I've ever heard him play such a long solo (11 minutes) - I certainly didn't expect him to be pushing the harmonic boundaries so much at this stage of his Coltrane career. For this solo alone, the disc is a must-hear!

Sound of Jazz
Sound of Jazz

3.0 out of 5 stars The "Lionel Hampton Presents" Session, 13 Jan. 2011
This review is from: Sound of Jazz (Audio CD)
...not that Hamp actually performs on the record, it was just issued as part of a series curated by Hampton on the short-lived Kingdom label, whose contents have been passed around all the budget price labels since the '80s.

Recorded in 1978, with Kai's then regular rhythm section of Frank Strazzeri (very '70s-sounding electric piano), Kevin Brandon (electric bass) and Ted Hawke (normal drums), it seems to be an attenpt to condense a typical club performance to LP-length. Only two original tunes are included (Kai's "Mono Bone" and Strazzeri's "Lazy Moments") - to his credit, Kai chose some not-so-familiar standards for this (few people remembered "Lonely Town" or Kurt Weill's "That's Him" even then).

I bought this out of curiosity - I knew Kai from his collaborations with JJ Johnson and Mingus. I never found Kai that fascinating as a soloist. Clearly by now his technique was in decline but - how shall I put this - he always sounded like a watered-down version of his old buddy JJ. Less harmonically adventurous, but also less likely to resort to quotations.

PS: I wonder why no-one has yet issued an anthology combining this with Kai's previous Kingdom sessions (scattered across various albums, including one track that's infamously become confused with a contemporaneous Mingus recording).

sunset and other beginnings LP
sunset and other beginnings LP

3.0 out of 5 stars The most problematic of the middle-period albums, 1 Dec. 2010
In its way, this album sums up Melanie's post-hippie-years/pre-AOR period. Long on cover versions - because she was stockpiling material for the planned comeback "Photograph" - and short on excitement, especially compared to past landmark albums like "Affectionately" and "Stoneground Words". There's no discernible concept underpinning this collection of songs - but that doesn't explain why this is less successful as an Album than even "Madrugada".
The arrangements are rather dull and generic - despite the presence of stalwarts Kellaway and Frangipane - and the chanteuse sounds disconnected or tired at times.
Half the album works pretty well. In the cover version category, there's a brilliant, funky and fiery, take on "Got My Mojo Workin'", an unlikely blues-tinged revision of "Almost Like Being In Love", and "What Do I Keep" which turns out to be the best-performed ballad on the album.
A few originals stand out: in the philosophical category, "Perceive It" (a "be here now" type of lyric) and "Where's The Band" (another plea for unity and peace, and almost the only moment on the album where she really exercises her larynx, using her voice as an instrument just a little); and in the introspective category, "The Sun And The Moon".
Unfortunately the other originals never seem to get started, certainly the lyrics struggle to make their point. "Sandman", "Lovin' My Children" and especially "People Are Just Gettin' Ready" are over-repetitive and saddled with dull vocals. And there's another instantly forgettable epilogue song at the end of the album.
A couple of covers also fail to work. It's hard to see the point of the bluegrass arrangement of "Ol' Man River": she drops the middle-eight as if admitting that the song doesn't mean much to her. She tries to be subtly subversive, changing and rearranging lyrics, in the "You Can't Hurry Love/Mama Said".
There are certainly worse albums in her catalogue, but, from the vintage years, this is the least consequential and easiest to overlook.

100 Hits: The Electric Eighties
100 Hits: The Electric Eighties
Price: £5.99

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Now this is more like it!, 13 Nov. 2010
Whoever compiled this really knew what they were doing!
It's a 6 CD compilation that focusses on the songs - in pop, rock and dance categories - that really matter to people, that really made a difference. Songs that weren't even necessarily hits - the emphasis is on quality. Well, having said that, there's a sprinkling of "cheese" there too - but very little, just enough to add "flavour".

All the discs are nearly or actually full to the brim, and there are a few extended/alternate mixes thrown in (e.g when "Two Tribes" appears it's not the standard-issue version, but one with no middle-eight and some dub-type fadeout/echo business at various points).

Great to see so many songs that seldom if ever get compiled, but are nevertheless engraved on the memories of a lot of people - Carmel's "Bad Day", Primal Scream's "Imperial", Then Jerico's "The Motive", both of Voice Of The Beehive's big hits, both of the Radio Heart & Gary Numan chart entries.

Personal faves include Echo & The Bunnymen's seldom-compiled "The Game", two B-Movie tracks (!), three Jesus & Mary Chain items, two Yes items (!), the Cars' oft-overlooked "Since You're Gone", the Dream Academy's version of "Please Please Please...", two from John Foxx...
And there are some oft-neglected gems at the cheesier end of the spectrum too: "I Can't Wait", "Self-Control", "Heartache Avenue"...two of the three Red Box hits (pity they couldn't make it a hat trick), and a Strawberry Switchblade track which isn't "Since Yestarday" (hurrah! It's "Jolene" - would've been even better if they'd thrown in "Sunday Morning" as well, or the original version of "Tress...", maybe next time)

In fact the only criticisms I have are the token megahits - e.g: do we need another copy of "Blue Monday" or "True Faith", how about a less overexposed NO number? And why include the repetitive extended version of "Walk Out To Winter" (Aztec Camera) instead of the extended with-extra-verses version of "This Corrosion" (Sisters of Mercy)? And these are minor blemishes on a terrific compilation, one which actually serves a purpose.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 11, 2012 7:29 PM BST

Photograph/Double Exposure
Photograph/Double Exposure

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sorry, but it's not her finest hour, 5 Oct. 2010
Returning to full-time music making after three years of motherhood and recupertaion from the stresses of hippie-era superstardom, Melanie designed this as her calling-card, her mission statement, the antidote to the years of reduced/zero gigging and apparent reduced creativity. She hadn't been padding out albums with cover versions because she'd hit a writer's block, she was just stockpiling material for the Comeback.

The Comeback never happened. Partly because time out of the spotlight had only cemented her Brand New Key-era image as a faux-naif flower-child, and thus an historical anachronism in the mid-1970s, and partly because the album fell victim to Scott Walker/Mark Hollis syndrome - i.e: the album was hastily deleted at a time when the often-very-favorable reviews were still being published.

So, it's gained a reputation as her masterpiece - but is it? Not to these ears. Not that it's a bad album, just blander than it should have been.

Like the three albums that preceded it, it's dominated by musical arrangements that place it in the kitschy corner of the mid '70s, that of Californian soft-rock and lightweight country-pop. There's a difference, though, in that a few songs have more of a jazz tinge - thanks to the confluence of the Paich family, the extended Toto family of musicians, and on the jazziest track ("I'm So Blue") a guest appearance from none other than Art Pepper (they needed an outstanding soloist, because it's not much of a song by itself).

Another part of the problem is that she'd matured as a singer - as in, become less spontaneous, less daring, lost a lot of her character. Compare this version of "The Nickel Song" with the original. Many songs needed an injection of extra interpretive energy - "Groundhog Day" (the original version), "Friends and Company", the intentionally self-derivative "Raindance", the not-emotive-enough "If I Needed You", even the Box Tops cover "The Letter", all are liable to float by without making much impression. We only get doses of "the real Melanie" on a gospel-style number "Secret of the Darkness", and on the two best songs on the album by a mile - its opening rocker "Cyclone" and the epic "Save Me" which sounds like it could have been the dramatic centerpiece of "Stoneground Words" (though the flamenco guitar is new for her).

The bonus tracks improve the album somewhat - particularly the ten-minute, orchestrated version of "Groundhog Day" which certainly is vastly preferable to the original, and "Remember Me Good", the one time she really cuts loose vocally during the sessions, sounding like a prototype Bjork in places during the ad-lib out-chorus. The obscure songs aren't great, but at least "Jukebox Magazine", "Miranda" and "Here We Go Again" aren't undersung or over-arranged. "Unfinished Business" is just that, but at least it sounds like a good song idea that hasn't been developed, and doesn't have gaps in the lyric waiting to be filled, unlike the self-explanatory "Wham Bomp Song". There was no need for an inferior remake of "Love To (Lose) Again", a surprisingly bland take on "Over The Rainbow", and a "Ruby Tuesday" that's weaker than either the classic 1970 version or the live '80s one which crops up on all the budget-label CDs.

Original Album Series
Original Album Series
Price: £12.99

41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nearly all you need - but not quite, 4 Oct. 2010
This review is from: Original Album Series (Audio CD)
Slowly but surely, Chicago are being elevated out of the middle-of-the-road kitsch bracket - more people are discovering their early work, much of which couldn't be further removed from Hard Habit To Break et cetera.

In the early '70s, they called this sort of music "brass rock" - a term that should be revived, as it certainly isn't jazz-rock fusion, it's not a bit like the Mahavishnu Orchestra, twin-guitar '70s Miles Davis, early (Vitous-era) Weather Report, or Frank Zappa's instrumental-oriented stuff. It's closer to Blood Sweat & Tears and such lesser-known phenomena as the Ides Of March or Heaven (who may even have coined the "brass-rock" term on their one and only [great] album).
Or Santana - because even before the Latin percussion starts creeping in on Volume VII, Chicago were mixing the same influences in the same fashion, and they had their own guitar hero in the perenially-underrated Terry Kath (odd that, since Hendrix was quite bowled over by him). I would recommend this to curious Santana fans, but I feel I may be wasting my time. To most people, this is an incomprehensible, utterly time-locked, musical genre. (I've seen reviews of both early Chicago and BS&T which argue that this music communicates absolutely nothing to later generations, and they may be right).
Chicago Transit Authority (1969) is the most guitar-heavy album of their career, with a lot of time taken up by Cream-ish extended jams (Poem 52 and the epic Liberation) and a Hendrixy atonal noise solo (Free Form Guitar. which doesn't really have enough variety of tones and ideas: Larry Coryell would've done it better). But it also introduces the mix of straight pop, jazz-tinged pop-rock and hippie politics that would occupy the next few albums.
Chicago (1970) is the most hippie-political album of their career, with a "stop the Vietnam war" song-sequence toward the end, songs about benign acid trips (Fancy Colours) and groupie encounters (The Road), interracial romances (at least I think that's the subtext of the famous Ballet For A Girl In Buchanon - two excerpts from which became hit singles) and a sleeve dedication about "the Revolution in all its forms". Oh yes, 25 Or 6 To 4 - by far the best-known song from Chicago's interesting years - is included here.
Chicago V (1972) sees them backtracking a bit - in State Of The Union they're anxious to distance themselves from the anarchist element, even though the song describes an instance of oppressive policing, and Dialogue is ambiguous as to whether we're supposed to sympathise with the "revolutionary" or the "apathetic student" depicted in the lyric. The songs are shorter, with no extended solos or ambitious bits of arranging. At worst, though, it's still a charming early '70s artifact - and the best bits remind us that they were still serious musicians. A Hit By Varese obviously stands out - as does the unfinished bonus track A Song For Richard And His Friends, which unfortunately isn't here (you have to get the separate-disc edition!)
Chicago VI (1973) is their first straight pop record - the beginning of the transition towards AOR and MOR. At least it's a nice guilty-pleasure, much like the early Billy Joel or Steely Dan albums. Terry Kath is still on hand to add a bit of vocal grit and guitar muscle where needed, and the gospel-tinged finale Feeling Stronger Every Day is irresistible. (But again, it's better to get it as a separate disc, for the brilliant Terry Kath outtake Beyond All Our Sorrows, not included here).
Chicago VII (1974) is mainly another very '70s adult-pop record, like its predecessor, but it also contains the last gasp of their progressive, musicianly aspiriations. It opens with an instrumental suite including some damn fine flute, guitar and drum solos, and there are other, more fragmentary instrumentals punctuating the record (Hanky Panky and Mongo-Nucleosis could and should both be taken into the standard jazz repertoire, with minor modifications). Of the vocal numbers, Kath and Lamm's contributions stand out, but there are unexpected bonuses in the famous Beach Boys collaboration Wishing You Were Here, and Jimmy Pankow's vocal Song Of The Everglades, which features some splendid Kath guitarwork.

There's an obvious problem with this box set - Chicago III is missing, which is nearly unforgivable! It may not have yielded any hits, here or there, but it's the most musically ambitious, most consistently compelling album they ever made. The one album that could definitely convert a skeptic: in its way the only Chicago album you really need.
So buy that one first, and then if you want more, think about buying this. (But bear the "no bonus tracks" situation in mind!)
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 23, 2014 10:21 PM GMT

Gather Me
Gather Me
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £88.95

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Problematic, 22 Sept. 2010
This review is from: Gather Me (Audio CD)
I'm reviewing this seperately from "Good Book" because of its status in Melanie's catalogue - her biggest-selling album, the source of the unfortunately image-defining hit single, and (from personal experience) the one album of hers that can be found in the giveaway bins in any second-hand record shop!
It's unfortunate that this should become, for many, her definitive album, because it's really not one of her best. She enthused at the time that it was her best album yet (which should always be taken with a pinch of salt), and that it was the first album she was entirely happy with, and one that reflected exactly where her head was at, at the time! If that's the case - she must have been even more confused and unstable in late 1971 than usual.
There's nothing wrong, as such, with albums that mix fully developed songs with "link tracks" - but most of these historically have been "concept albums". There's no discernible concept to this - it's hard to figure out what purpose is served by the quaint covers, 30-second fragments, half-finished works-in-progress and near-wordless guide vocals that cast a disproportionate shadow over the rest of the album.

For this listener, the biggest problem with the album is a more mundane one - there's too much religious content. If Melanie has always been anxious not to be defined by her religious affiliation (which has changed over the years), and in later years has regarded herself as a secular humanist first and foremost, you'd never know it from listening to this!
A large chunk of time is taken up by an actual hymn ("What Wond'rous Love") and a pastiche gospel-song (the famous "Ring The Living Bell") - and the former doesn't make much impression, musically. The latter is considered by many as one of her classics - to me it's a qualified success, because of the ambiguous lyric. I'm convinced it's a bit of a mickey-take - a metaphor has to make sense on one or both levels, but this can only be read (with difficulty) as, nothing more and nothing less than, a "hymn" to a night on the town...and what happens afterwards!
But then, the "God stuff" keeps cropping up where you least expect it - not only in the album's coda (a song which may date from the 1900s), but implicitly in "Some Say I Got Devil" and "Railroad", and explicitly in "Center of the Circle", the longest of those seemingly-unfinished songs which fortunately is rescued by arranger Roger Kellaway - who unexpectedly converts it into a wild flight of fancy, a chamber-pop tour-de-force.

Most of the inarguable highlights of the album are easily obtainable elsewhere. There's the aforementioned "Some Say..." - an inconclusive song about an unexpected and/or unwanted pregnancy - which is a song that Beth Orton seems to have spent much of her career trying to rewrite (compare "Precious Maybe" and "Blood Red River", for starters). "Steppin'", which also sounds today like a pre-echo of Orton, and incidentally was the first "wronged-woman song" in her catalogue (if you overlook "Wait By the Water" and, indeed, "You Can Go Fishin'"). "Railroad", a blues avec trombone, sounding at first like a typical road song...until the suicide verse (Melanie herself would attempt suicide the following year). The endearingly daft "Baby Day", and - perhaps best of all - a song which doesn't get compiled too often, "A Little Bit Of Me", which returns to her default theme of the insecurity of the professional musician, and contains maybe the best vocal performance on the album. And of course, there's "Brand New Key" - Safka scholars aren't supposed to like it, because of the Wurzel connection and the way it stereotyped her in people's minds as a novelty act, but resistance is futile. And, yes, it does mean what you think it means.

Affectionately Melanie
Affectionately Melanie

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This was her moment, 16 Sept. 2010
This review is from: Affectionately Melanie (Audio CD)
I'm reviewing this separately from "Born To Be" because - I'm going to defy accepted wisdom and say that this was Melanie's best album. Woodstock was still fresh in everyone's mind when it had hit the stands (under various names: "Affectionately" here, "Back In Town" there, no title at all in the States) and this was an album that delivered on the promise of that performance at Yasgur's Farm, one that corrected the mistakes on the debut and perfected the rest. Major commercial success was yet to come, but, if you get my drift, this was her "Disintegration", her "Screamadelica", her "Viva Hate" - never again would she seem so relevant to the times.
But this wasn't just an unsurpassable moment historically, but musically.
Never again would she deliver a start-to-finish flawless album consisting (almost?) entirely of original material (see later), with almost no self-recycling (we'll discount the fact that the most famous song here, "Beautiful People" had been around a while, and that there's a snippet of "I'm Back In Town" to provide continuity with the debut). 90%-original Melanie albums, in any case, can be counted on one hand!
And that's not all. She later said that her voice lowered rapidly in the early to mid '70s, through constant use, and certainly after the Carnegie Hall double album this premature ageing became impossible to ignore. But in retrospect the process can be seen to start as early as "Candles In The Rain". And her creative energy as an vocal interpreter must have dropped down with it - this album, her second, has more dazzling, "what-the-x-is-that", vocal-ecstacy moments than any of her others.
Take for instance, the other three well-known songs: "Johnny Boy", "Tuning My Guitar", building from sweetly-sad beginnings to stuttering and shrieking climaxes, practically combusting with desire and self-defensive attitude respectively; "Any Guy'"s perfectly pitched sprechgesang, the narrator trying to pose as a cold-hearted seductress when in fact she's the one who's been seduced and abandoned.
And there's just as much vocal greatness in those slower, subtler songs united by themes of loneliness and insecurity: "Deep Down Low", her first country song and in a way her best, just for the way her unpolished voice makes it sound practically avant-garde. "Again" with its music box chimes and appropriately world-weary vocals. "Take Me Home", almost unaccompanied, half coy/half desperately needy.
"Soul Sister Annie", according to some sources written by Tom Kaye (though my vinyl doesn't say so!) is a complete one-off, a funky soul number that could almost be a tribute to...Anna Mae Bullock? The details don't quite scan, but still...Melanie's voice was untamed and untrained enough to fit it.
The other two uptempo numbers are virtually sequels to "Tuning My Guitar": "Uptown and Down" (which is not quite as powerful as the live version from the "Leftover Wine" album) and "Baby Guitar" which could have been even more self-flagellating if she'd included the verses about "taking pieces of myself and putting them in formaldehyde".
Someone once complained that this album was too self-pitying. An unfair criticism perhaps - she was (and still is) an insecure person. But, this proves that self-pity doesn't have to make for depressing music.

at carnegie hall LP
at carnegie hall LP

3.0 out of 5 stars It's bitter sweet - and better than you might have heard, 23 Aug. 2010
This review is from: at carnegie hall LP (Vinyl)
Three years on from Margie's Brithday Party - the occasion of the "Leftover Wine" live album - Melanie returns to Carnegie Hall, this time on the eve of her own birthday. (And, yes, there's another happy birthday singalong, but it's not indezed off as a separate track!)

Another influential review site has claimed that Melanie sounds "on the verge of a nervous breakdown...with chronic fatigue syndrome" here. That may be an accurate summation of her state of mind at the time, but it's not an accuate description of the record.

If it's not as powerful as the previous live album, that's because the world had changed, and so had the singer. Just as her songwriting "matured" and lost a lot of its eccentricities, her voice "matured" and lost some of its edge. From 1972 onwards, the number of overwhelming, gooseflesh-inducing/gut-quaking vocal-ecstacy moments on Melanie records deteriorated steadily. There are some, mainly in the second half: even if these versions of "Peace Will Come" and "Ring The Living Bell" aren't as powerful as they would have been 1-2 years earlier, they're still roof-raisers.
Collectors should know that there are two exclusive songs on this album: "Lay Your Hands Across The Six Strings" and "It's Me Again". Like some of the other songs that would have been new to the audience ("I Am Not A Poet" and "The Actress") they're unmistakeably the work of an overworked, stressed-out singer songwriter who's anxious about her public image. At least this audience weren't totally insensitive to her predicament, one notices the gasps of acclaim that greet "I Am Not A Poet" (so much for "they loved the melodies but they didn't understand the words").
As before, the audience's worshipful devotion to the singer is apparent throughout the album. There may not be any "Don't leave us!" moments here, but it's clear that she still has the hardcore fans who regard her as the Messiah with an acoustic guitar! (Of course she did - look around the internet, they're still out there today). The hits "Brand New Key" and "Bitter Bad" (complete with uncensored "smoking" lyric) have come and gone, but it's nice to note that songs like "Some Say I Got Devil" and "Baby Guitar" still get the better response. And they still love "Psychotherapy" (though they're not as vocal this time, because they've all heard the joke before).

The one spoken-intro moment where she gets a bit emotional comes before "Beautiful People" - and it's not just awarenes of ageing that's affecting her, but the realisation that the song has already become "nostalgiac". Those days when it seemed like people were moving towards a higher level of consciousness are definitely over. "Peace Will Come" may have become a less timely song as the US began withdrawing from Vietnam, as she acknowledges, but...the Kent State massacre, the purging of underground FM radio, the prosecutions of radical magazines, the persecution of John Lennon...all the offenses against human rights attributable to Hoover and Nixon have destroyed what was left of the anarchist-pacifist movement (the, if you must, "hippie" movement). And as a result, Melanie has already become the "living museum piece" that Rolling Stone later accused her of being.
It's necessary to listen to the album with all this in mind.

garden in the city LP
garden in the city LP

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Overdue rehabilitation - like the artist herself, 17 Aug. 2010
This review is from: garden in the city LP (Vinyl)
It's a real shame that this album has been unavailable for years - it's never been "officially" released on CD. It was compiled without Melanie's involved and she consented to its release almost under duress, repudiating it as soon as it appeared. Its songs have since been scattered across numerous CDs, not all of them still available.

The fact is - even though it's a compilation consisting maiinly of "outtake" material, it plays better as an album that several of her proper albums. And anyone who prefers her earliest material - when she was at her most fearless and experimental as a singer, and as a songwriter all her eccentricities were still intact - will love this!

There are two well-known songs on the album: the "RPM" movie theme "Stop I Don't Wanna Here It Anymore" and the show-tune-like "People In The Front Row" which was sampled on a Hilltop Hoods record some years back.

The rest of the album is divisible into categories. There are several existential angst songs: "Garden In The City" itself (an early non-album single), "Love In My Mind" (a real lost gem) and another movie theme "We Don't Know Where We're Going". A couple of lightweight numbers: "Jigsaw Puzzle" (apparently an original, or is it a Rolling Stones song) with some amusing lines about a Tony Soprano-type character), the mildly funky "Don't You Wait By The Water" (which has the most window-rattling vocal on the album). And two covers which she attacks in her usual "fearless" fashion: Gershwin's "Somebpdy Loves Me" and Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay". The Dylan cover, with an energetic flute solo on it, has been heavily criticized over the years, but I like it...a lot! (She treats the lyric as an internal monolog, in case you were wondering!)

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