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Archive for the ‘Dream Theater’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: KING’S X-Live Love in London (2010).

King’s X released their most recent studio album (XV) in 2008.  It’s been over 11 years since that album came out, but King’s X still tours pretty much all of the time.  They could stand to mix up their setlists a bit from time to time, but they still sound quite good.

This concert was recorded on January 22nd, 2009 at the Electric Ballroom in Camden, London, not long after XV came out.  As such, there’s five songs from that album.  I actually thought that XV was a pretty great record and these songs hold up quite well with the rest of them.

This show starts, as pretty much all shows do since 1998 with “Groove Machine.”  The opening of “Welcome to the Groove Machine” is a pretty terrific way to introduce everyone to the show.  There’s a slightly extended drum solo in the middle of the song, but nothing too crazy.

It’s followed by a new song, “Alright.”  It features some noisy, squeaky guitars from Ty and is really catchy in it’s simplicity: “one day, (one day) it’s gonna be, (it’s gonna be) alright, (alright) alright, (alright).”  It’s a great singalong.

They quickly jump back to a popular older song, the quiet “Pleiades” although Ty’s vocals sound a little rough on it.  Back to the new record with “Move,” a suitably heavy song, although “What is This?” from the debut sounds much heavier.  You can tell that the band has played this song a lot because dUg is taking liberties with the lyrics: “make you look so fucking foolish.”  And lots of screaming.  Ty’s guitar solo is pretty epic.

Then they play two songs in a row from the King’s X album.  Up first is the quieter, grooving “Lost in Germany.”  Then comes the hugely popular “Black Flag.”

There’s a slightly lengthy bass intro as the band sets up for the new, absolutely rocking song “Pray,” in which dUg once again grapples with religion.  This is another great chanting sing along.

The crowd is excited for the older hit “Dogman” with some more noisy guitars from Ty.  dUg also makes his first reference to pot: after the line “give me a skinny or give me a fat,” he says “I smoke em fat.”

Then there’s two new songs in a row, yet another great sing-along” Go Tell Somebody.”  It’s a rollicking song that sums up the King’s X ethos pretty well: “if you like what you hear, go tell somebody.”  It leads into the quieter, Jerry Gaskill-sung “Julie” a nice song to his wife.  That’s it for new songs as they head back to older albums from here on out.

The first one is the only song from Ear Candy, the rocking “Looking for Love.”  It’s interesting when Ty plays his solo how much the rest of the sound goes away–its just bass and drums while Ty totally wails–a rather long solo for a 4 minute song.  The crowd goes crazy for “Summerland” and you can hear them all singing along to the final verse including the slight pause before it resumes.  The crowd is incredibly important at a King;s X show and it is a bit of a shame that the crowd is mixed out of this recording (I assume it’s a sound board and therefore hard to include the crowd).  But it’s really great to hear them sing along.  Apparently there is also a lot of chanting and such that is edited out for the CD, which makes sense, but is a bit of a bummer if you want to really capture the energy of the show.  At one point dUg even says, “I’ve been listening to you sing all night and its alright.”

They end the set with a rousing 12 minute “Over My Head.”  The extended part comes in the middle, of course.  The song slows down, the crowd starts clapping, and Ty plays a really impressive solo–just wailing around for almost 3 minutes.  Then it’s dUg’s turn.  “Welcome to the first church of rock n roll.”  He talks about the importance of music, “Music got me through a lot of hard times.”  In almost every show he tells a different anecdote.  This time he says, “My aunt told me … its a terrible thing for a man to do the thing he don’t wanna do for the rest of his life.  I decided I’m gonna make fucking music.”  The audience then sings the chorus pretty much through to the end of the song.

Then it’s time for the encore.  (The encore breaks are not evident on the CD).

dUg says, “This is gonna be a long encore.”  It starts with two songs from Faith Hope Love.  “It’s Love” was probably their biggest hit.  The song sounds great, although truthfully their impeccable harmonies sound a little tired here.   It segues perfectly in to “We Were Born to Be Loved” one of the great show enders.  This version runs to about six minutes with some extended moments and that awesomely complex ending sequence.

They come back out for encore 2 and play the lovely “Goldilox.”  The big difference this time is that the crowd sings the entire song!  Quite well, in fact.  dUg doesn’t sing anything and Ty only plays loud between verses.  It’s pretty cool.  They stay with the debut album for one more song, “Visions” which returns to the heaviness but keeps the harmonies.  The end part really takes off with some wild soloing from Ty as dUg and Jerry jam out together.  It’s a wonderfully wild ending and seems like it could easily end the show.  But the band isn’t quite done yet.

There’s one more encore break before they come back with the wild “Moanjam.”  The harmonies seem to have completely lost them by this time, but musically the song is outstanding.  Just a terrific jam that rocks out.

King’s X is a fantastic live band.  And, yes, they are getting older and don’t sound as amazing as they once did, but the energy and musicianship is still top-notch, even almost ten years after this release.

[READ: February 2019] King’s X: The Oral History

Even though I love music, I don’t read a ton of books about musicians.  I kind of don’t care all that much about most of them.  I want to see and hear you play, but I don’t have that much curiosity about your history.

But some bands defy the tropes of rock, and their story can often be interesting.

I’ve been a fan of King’s X for decades and while I knew some things about them, it turns out I didn’t really know all that much.  And it was fun to read this book which is constructed of quotes from the band and the people who were around them.

Most of the people interviewed are huge fans of the band and can’t understand why they were never more successful (a common question).  I also had no idea there was such acrimony between the band and their original unofficial fourth member, Sam Taylor (who does not make an appearance in the book).

Perhaps the biggest surprise to me was to find out that Doug (dUg) Pinnick is 68 years old! That certainly explains why his voice doesn’t sound superlative live anymore.  And fair play to him.  He sounds amazing for 68.  He is otherwise ageless, that guy.  dUg had a pretty rough upbringing–and he didn’t get a bass until he was 23!

Jerry Gaskill has had two heart attacks (!) and is from South NJ (and now lives near Asbury Park–wow, imagine running into him).  He started a band with his dad and his brother when he was 7 years old (Jerry & The Knights).  And they played out at weddings and parties.  How fun is that?

Ty Tabor is the baby at 58. Ty learned guitar from a babysitter and has been playing ever since.  He and others keep referring to Phil Keaggy.  I had never heard of him and was surprised at Ty’s reverence.  Well, Keaggy is an adult Christian musician so clearly I’d never have heard of him.  I listened to a track or two but just couldn’t get past the Christianness of it to really appreciate the music. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 21, 2016] Umphrey’s McGee

2016-10-21-21-25-48 As of this summer I didn’t know who Umphrey’s McGee were.  I assumed they were a country band or something.  Then I found out a friend of mine who was at the Phish show that I went to was a huge fan of Umphrey’s McGee too.  She said that they were amazing live.  I listened to some of their stuff (and learned that their debut was called Greatest Hits Volume III, which I love), and then saw that they were playing three nights at The Fillmore in Philadelphia.  So I got a ticket for the middle night to see what the story was.

And I think I picked a good night to go.  Friday night the band had an opening act, not so Saturday or Sunday.  This meant that they didn’t go on until 9:15, which was fine.  I arrived in time but I had forgotten about the long security lines (and I’m thankful for the security, but ouch, it adds ten minutes to the line).  I missed the opening song, but since the band played for nearly three hours, that was okay.

So it turns out that Umphrey’s McGee are a jam band who work within a more progressive/metal sound.  They have a lot of stops and starts and time changes and their guitar solos are superfast pyrotechnics.  Most of their songs extend to about ten minutes or more (maybe like Dream Theater if they were a jam band).

But the fun thing about UM is that they throw in all kinds of cover segments and mashups.  To my knowledge there were no mashup in this show, although they are about a to release a whole album full of great mashups. However, they did tease out sections of other songs during some of their longer instrumental jams, which was fun. (more…)

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[WATCHED October-November 2012] Metal Evolution

metal evolutionVH1 aired this series last year and I was intrigued by it but figured I had no time to watch an 11 hour series on the history of heavy metal.  Of course, this being VH1, they have since re-aired the series on an almost continual loop.  So, if you’re interested, you can always catch it.

This series was created by Sam Dunn, the documentary filmmaker who made the movie Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey.  I had heard good things about the movie, but never saw it.  After watching the series, I’m definitely interested in the movie.  Dunn is a keener–A Canadian heavy metal fan who is really into his subject.  He knows his stuff and he knows what he likes (heavy metal) and what he doesn’t like (glam metal, nu metal).

The sheer number of people he interviews is impressive (as are the number of locations he travels to).  Part of me says “wow, I can’t believe he was able to interview X,” and then I remember, “X is really old and is nowhere near the level of fame that he once had.”  Given that, the few hold-outs seem surprising–did they not want to have anything to do with VH1?  Are they embarrassed at how uncool they are now?  Just watch the show guys, you can’t be as low as some.

The only mild criticism I have is that the show relies a lot on the same talking heads over and over.  Scott Ian from Anthrax, whom I love, is in every episode.  Indeed, he may be a paid VH1 spokesman at this point.  There are a few other dudes who show up a little more than they warrant, but hey, you use what you got, right?

What is impressive is the volume of music he includes with the show.  I assume that he couldn’t  get the rights to any studio recordings because every clip is live.  This is good for fans in that we get to see some cool unfamiliar live footage, but some of it is current live footage which often doesn’t compare to the heyday.  Having said that, there’s a lot of live footage from the early 80s–of bands that I never saw live anywhere.  And that’s pretty awesome.

With an 11-part documentary there’s the possibility of exhaustion and overkill, but Dunn is an excellent craftsman  he jumps around from old to new, talks about how the history impacts the current and, because of his own interests, he makes it personal rather than just informative. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE GREAT GAMBLE-Book One (2012).

My friend Matt has worked at a school in Pennsylvania for years. He wrote to tell me that a few kids who graduated from his school had formed a band and have released a CD.  It’s streaming (and downloadable) on bandcamp at their site.

I have lots of friends in bands, and I’ve listened to lots of demos, so I wasn’t expecting very much.  But the first thing I noticed when I listened was how good this sounds–professional and, yes, like a “real” album.  This isn’t just a bunch of guys jamming in their garage.  What makes this even more striking is that the music is heavy progressive metal–not something you just whip out in a quick take.  This is complicated, interesting music.  I’m hearing a kind of Dream Theater meets King’s X vibe going on.  And man, it’s really good.

This is multi-step heavy rock (complete with a synth player/violinist!). The only song that is less than 9 minutes is the 90 second introduction called “The Marketplace.”  Otherwise, we’ve got three songs over ten minutes and one over 16!  Who even knew young bands did stuff like this anymore?

Al Joseph plays lead guitar and sings lead vocals.  His guitar speed is very impressive and his vocals sound not unlike Dug Pinnick from King’s X (noticeable on the opening track, especially) .  Matt Weaver plays violin and keyboards.  The keyboards offer more than just a fuller sound.  On “Release the Kraken” they provide some cool sci-fi sound effects.  At about five minutes in, “Release the Kraken” slows down to a quiet middle section that really showcases Steve Michael’s drums.  And then comes the blistering guitar solo.  It’s followed quickly but a slight diversion and then a wholly different style of solo.  It’s really something.

If “Release the Kraken” wasn’t a good enough prog rock title, how bout “Legends of the Symmetria.”  This one has a very Dream Theater feel for the opening.  But the vocals sound very different–dual vocals with great low harmony.  There’s a cool pre-chorus (I guess) at about 3 minutes.  This song is definitely a heavy one.  At about 4 minutes, the song slows down into a pretty classical guitar section,where Chris Joseph on plays bass gets to show off a bit (although he seems to be the most understated of the 4 players).  There’s some great drumming at the end of the song, too.

“The Ghost of Three Reflections” is a slow builder of a song.  There’s some quiet parts (with beautiful harmonies) and a guitar solo that sounds clear and perfect (I’m hyping the production so much because it sounds so good).  The guitar solo section in this one strikes me as something that might suit two guitarists better–maybe two more different styles of soloing, but he pulls it off well, especially when by the end, he has shifted to a very different style, and the music changes along with it).  I love the bass section at the 8 minute mark, which reminds me of something Rush might have done back in the mid 70s.  The song kind of merges into “Breach At Fort Mycenae” which opens with the same kind of staggered sound as the end of the previous song.  The violin gets an airing in the middle of this song and it’s a cool treat.  I could definitely use more violin in these songs, although maybe little bits are a treat.  There’s a few times when I don’t like the production choices–maybe there needs to be a bit more music behind some of these solos so it doesn’t just sound like two players soloing against each other.

The disc ends with the big one, the sixteen minute, “The Sleepwalker Pt. 1 – Tears of Dagon” [I love that it’s a Part One and it’s 16 minutes long].  When the vocals kick in at about 3 minutes, the harmonies are gorgeous.  I love the bass guitar break at 5 minutes.  Although there’s something about the keyboard sound that I don’t like–maybe they’re not big enough?  But I love the crazy guitar solo at the 9 minute mark of this track (I’m a sucker for dissonant scales).

This is an amazing debut CD and I hope these guys go far (they’re going from Scranton to Boston for school, but I hope they can go further than that).  They are tight as a drum, stopping and starting perfectly, keeping all of the rhythms and time changes perfectly.  They really have done their prog rock homework.  The only gripe is as I’ve said, some sections don’t feel “big” enough.  If you’re going to write a 16 minute song, you don’t want sections that sound small–you want your backing guitars or bass guitars to be a little louder so it sounds like the song is still going.  But other than that, there’s not much room for improvement.

I downloaded their CD, (and yes, I paid for it…that will help with college, eh?).  But my real complaint is that on the computer, the album cover is awesome–if you look at it from an angle, there’s a whole scene behind the large logo (try it, it works here too).  But when you print it out, you lose all of that.  The images are there, but the effect is gone.  This is a band that calls out for full color packaging and maybe even a gatefold sleeve!  (The bottom of the cover says Ο υπνoβάτης which means The Sleepwalker).

Good jobs guys!  You’ve done NEPA proud!

[READ: May 15, 2012] Drop Dead Healthy

Sarah got me this latest A.J. Jacobs book for my birthday.  At first I didn’t think I wanted to read it because I feared what a book all about being in good shape would be—nagging, obnoxious, making me feel bad about my vices. But I should have leaned from all of my A.J. Jacobs experience that he is completely NOT about that.

Jacobs occasionally enters into preposterous forays of Self-Improvement.  In the first book of his I read, The  Guinea Pig Diaries, he tried various weird experiments to see what it was like to be a woman, radically honest, a unitasker, etc.  His other books have been about self-improvement.  He read the encyclopedia from A-Z, he did a year trying to live like out of the bible (I will get to these eventually).  In this book, he is on a quest to be the healthiest person in the world.

It’s an impossible task.  And, frankly, a foolish one.  But he decides he will take two years and focus on individual parts of his body one month at a time.  I’m going say right up front I feared that this book would make me feel bad about all the things I don’t do for myself.   But well, a) Jacobs is a funny writer, so at least you’re laughing.  b) Jacobs is either in bad shape or plays up his badshapedness so that the average person doesn’t feel too bad off.  c) He is so over the top in his quest that no one would ever think about doing all of the things, but we can take what he learned and apply little bits to ourselves.  What is nice is that he tries to get two if not balanced opinions then perhaps fringe opinions to balance out–trying one extreme then another to see which work.

He Breaks His Categories Down thusly: stomach (eating right, the perfect food), the heart, the ears (the quest for quiet), the butt (avoiding sitting too much), the immune system (germs), genitals, nervous system, lower intestine (better bowels), adrenal gland (lowering stress), brain, endocrine system (removing toxins), teeth, feet, lungs, skin, inside of the eyelid (sleep), bladder, gonads, nose, hands, back, eyes, and skull.  Each category is designed to be a month-long workout of that organ/item–some things he keeps doing after the month is over making his workout regime something like 5 hours a day.  And at the beginning of each month he lists the stats for what he accomplished.

I’m not going to talk about all of his body parts, but I will mention a few that i enjoyed the most. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NOTHING SMELLS QUITE LIKE ELIZABETH compilation (1992).

This was Dromedary Records’ first big release: a statement of purpose if you will.  This is a compilation of unsigned Jersey indie bands.  I listened to this all the time as it was being compiled and mastered.  It’s been a while since I listened to the disc start to front.

It’s funny to hear some of these tracks now 18 years later, to see what stands up.

Melting Hopefuls’s “Gondola” has always been a favorite of mine, a weird intertwining vocals/guitars mix.  I’ve no idea what it’s about, but it sounds great.  Oral Groove’s “She’s Still Here” is okay.  The opening riff is pretty great, but the rest of the song isn’t all that memorable.

Planet Dread’s “What We See” is all over the place but manages to be a reasonably cohesive metal song. The time changes are still unexpected and are quite interesting.  This was a band who liked to throw everything into a song, so when the trippy middle section comes in, it sounds almost like a different band until that same crazy riff brings it back to metal territory.  The triangle at the end is a nice touch too.

When this disc came out, Eternal Vision was this huge buzz band, Jersey’s (specifically my home town of Hawthorne’s) up and coming Dream Theater.  And you can hear the talent in this song.  I have to say I much prefer the instrumental section to the parts with vocals.   Bassist Frank LaPlaca (who yes I played little league with) is now in the prog rock band 4front. His bass work has always been amazing and no doubt still is.

Footstone’s “Forbidden Fruit” is one of the poppier/groovier numbers here.  It’s always made me smile, as it’s about office furniture: “That’s not your chair.”  The unexpected funk freak out in the middle is just a bonus.  And cuppa joe’s “Meanings” is one of their lighter songs with some of my favorite lyrics on the disc.  When the song starts I think it’s going to be a bit too twee, and yet it always redeems itself wonderfully.

Ya-Ne-Zniyoo’s “The Man in My Dream” is as peculiar as the band’s name.  Jangly guitars, tribal drums, and cool vocal twists (nice background vocals in particular).  And, like a lot of these songs, there’s a wild middle section, this one with heavy groove guitars.  Ya-Ne-Zniyoo have a disc available on Amazon (at least I assume it’s the same Ya-Ni-Zniyoo).

Godspeed have a really raw, heavy sound on “Child Bride.”  When I was younger I always laughed at the “So soft, it makes me hard” line (that’s mixed quite loudly), but now it seems a little too silly.  However, it’s a good set up for the weird and almost jokey mosh section that ends the track.  I also enjoy any song with a coda that has nothing to do with the rest of the song.

Rosary was my friend Garry’s band. They were a really interesting band out of Hasbrouck Heights.  “Asylum”  holds up quite well.  The guitars sound great and the vocals at the end sound fantastic.  There’s something about the overall mix that’s a little muddy, which I think hides how good this song is.  The disc ends with Grooveyard’s “Child Bright” (huh, two songs with almost the same title).  It’s probably the most metal song of the bunch, even though it has a very jam-band guitar opening.  But with the heavy guitars and strong vocals, (and the “time to die” lyrics), this is easily the heaviest song on the disc.

So, 18 years later, this is still a fun compilation.  I’m not even sure how many of thee bands are still around.  You can hear a few songs on Dromedary Radio.  He might even have a few CD compilations left over, if you ask nicely.

[READ: February 18, 2010] “The Insufferable Gaucho”

This is the longest Bolaño short story of this batch.  This is a slow paced story following a man in his steady decline (or is it?) from urban lawyer to small town rabbit hunter.

As the story opens, we meet Héctor Pereda an irreproachable lawyer and caring father who lives in the wonderful city of Buenos Aires.  His son Bebe and daughter Cuca later accused him of sheltering them from life’s harsh realities.  But when Pereda’s wife died (the kids were 5 and 7) he wanted to respect her memory, so he never remarried (and he didn’t want to burden his children with a stepmother).

Cuca eventually married and Bebe became a very successful writer. Both kids eventually moved away.  And Pereda seemed to age prematurely.  Then the Argentinian economy collapsed.  He couldn’t afford to pay his cook or maid, so he decided he would move to his country house where he could be more frugal.

When he gets out to the country, he find the place to be desoltae.  His house is in terrible disrepair.  He tries to fix it himself, but he finds that he needs to call on the help of some lazy gauchos (who do, in fact, play guitar all day). He buys a horse, meets with people and slowly, slowly starts building a small farm.

By the end of the story he is unrecognizable: unshaven, dirty and dressed like one of the gauchos.  But the real question is, is he happy?

There’s some (to me) unbelievable parts of this story: rabbits attacking people on horseback?  But it occurs to me that Pereda may be going slowly crazy.  Surely his son (and writer friends) think so.

It’s a long story where not very much happens, but I still enjoyed it.  Despite the apparent lunacy, it was a very engaging portrait.

For ease of searching I include: Bolano

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terry.jpgSOUNDTRACK: COHEED & CAMBRIA-Good Apollo I’m Burning Star IV, Vol. 1: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness (2005).

coheed.jpgFor reasons I’m unclear about, I had the completely wrong perception of what this band would be like. I had read a few things and heard from a few people some differing stories. I decided to check them out based on this input, and I decided, against my anal retentivity, to get Part IV of their five part collection. (This is because it was really cheap on Amazon).

So, given this, I don’t know what C&C sounds like on the first records, and maybe they sounded more like what I assumed they would sound like. And, frankly, given the images that the album comes with, coheed2.jpg one would tend to think that deep dark heavy metal is contained within. In fact, I was pretty sure that I was in for a heavier sort of Dream Theater. The imagery of this collection is very dark/scary/spooky, and I was told many times that the band was quite prog-rockish, often sounding like Rush. Oh, and the singer sounds like a woman.

Imagine my surprise then to play the CD and (ignoring the opening string intro which doesn’t signify anything anymore) hear a whole bunch of relatively short, really pretty, uncomplicated songs. There are a number of tracks on this that could be huge hits. As I listened some more, I realized what I thought the band sounded like…they sounded like Queensryche. In fact, they sound like any number of 80s metal bands. It was really weird and unsettling to have my expectations totally blown.

The first 11 songs are, for the most part, short, uncomplicated songs. They have beautiful melodies, and yet often have very disturbingly violent lyrics. (In what practically sounds like a lullaby–“I’ll do anything for you; kill anyone for you.”) There’s an awful lot of killing and threatening and the like going on here. And, yes, the singer can sound like a woman. Evidently this killing and violence is rampant through the sequence of discs, and there is some kind of “story” that explains it. But I didn’t really read closely enough to decipher it.

It’s not until track 12 the indicatively titled: “Willing Well I: Fuel for the Feeding End” that the prog stuff kicks in. Now we have some seven minute songs, we have some complex riffing going on and an occasional time change. There’s also call backs to earlier sections of the album. This was certainly more of what I was expecting, although, indeed, it’s still not THAT heavy. Some of the tracks so resemble Rush’s proggy heyday. Most unusual for me was that the long meandering guitar solo on the very last song “The Willing Well IV: The Final Cut” sounded like it could have fit perfectly as the long, meandering guitar solo in Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.” Go ahead, listen for it, I’ll give you fifteen minutes.

The first time I listened to this disc, I really didn’t like it because it wasn’t anything like what I expected. On my second and third listens I started to enjoy it a lot more. I started to really groove to the songs. I also subsequently read a description of the album on allmusic to see if I was crazy, and indeed, I was not. They say that the band is very emo in an 80’s metal sort of way. And, I totally agree. They mentioned Queensryche as well (although they say Operation Mindcrime and I say Rage for Order) and as soon as I saw the “emo” tag, I thought about My Chemical Romance as a recent soundalike band.

As for the content of the epic, I have no idea what’s going on. I haven’t been able to read the lyric sheet yet (as I listen in the car) and I know I am coming way in the middle of this whole thing, so I know that I’m missing boatloads of information. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it enough to seek out some other parts just to see what the whole thing is about.

It’s nice when an unexpected surprise turns pleasant.

[DIGRESSION: BACKSTORY:] When I was 12 my sainted Aunt Lil and I used to travel from our little ‘burb of Hawthorne, all the way to the Willowbrook mall in Wayne by bus. A transfer in Paterson was required, and retrospectively, I am amazed that this little old lady traveled all that way, and made an exchange in a fairly “bad” neighborhood all the time. Once in a while I would go with her and we’d make a day of it. My “reward” for going was that I’d get a record or two. (more…)

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