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Archive for the ‘Tiny Desk Concert’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: CORY HENRY AND THE FUNK APOSTLES-Tiny Desk Concert #792 (October 5, 2018).

Cory Henry & The Funk Apostles blew me away with the first song of this Concert.  “Love Will Find A Way” opens with a deep bass sound as the funk starts.  And then Henry adds the great sound of the Hammond.

There’s so much joy in the sound of the Hammond organ, especially for those of us of a certain age. Hearing it can transport you to the early ’70s, when every rock band seemed to have one in its arsenal: The Allman Brothers, Santana, Deep Purple. In the hands of true masters — like the late Billy Preston and the very-much-alive Booker T. Jones — the organ can be a melodic, funky rhythm machine.

Cory Henry’s name belongs in the same breath as the Hammond organ masters of the past. The instrument creates the central sound of his dynamic, neo-soul- and funk-infused musical identity, and he opens his turn behind the Tiny Desk with what feels like an encore: the full-on soul assault of “Love Will Find a Way.” The song twists and turns, then winds up as a full-on celebration — and it’s only the first song in his set.

The song does have several part including a lengthy middle solo section.  Over the heavy organ chords there’s a wailing guitar solo and a keyboard solo from the synth player.

By the end of its six minutes it absolutely feels like an encore–a show ender.  It’s awesome.

“Trade It All” is a bit more soul, less funk, which means I don’t like it as much.  B

Henry’s keyboard skills are on full display during a synth solo in “Trade It All,” which also spotlights his entire band. To my mind, they’d have sounded right at home on Stax Records in the ’70s — no small accomplishment.

The middle shows a softer, quieter side of the Hammond–one that sounds a bit cheesier to my ear.  And yet there’s no denying Henry’s deft finger work (there’ a hint of Stevie Wonder in there for sure).

The final song, the ten-minute “Send Me a Sign” has a lengthy, almost preacher-like quality and is clearly gopsel-inspired.

It showcases some of the roots of Henry’s songwriting; it’s inspired by church sermons that bloom into group sing-alongs. Just another way Cory Henry digs way back to give us something new and exciting.

[READ: October 11, 2017] “One Saturday Morning”

I have never been disappointed with a story from Tessa Hadley.  She might be one of my favorite writers whom I’ve never read outside of magazines.

This story is wonderful because the we learn so much about so many people through the eyes of one woman.

Valerie is Gil’s second wife.  Gil is in his fifties and Valerie is twenty-four.  Gil is a successful professor and she was (as someone described her with disdain) a typist.

But as the story opens, Valerie is trying to cope with Gil’s daughter.  Robyn is nine years old, can’t button her own dress and is utterly unprepared for several days at another house.  This was the first time Valerie had met her…stepdaughter?  And Robyn was plain and kind of dull.  She was polite but had no toys (she played cleverly with scraps of fabric, but would not engage when asked about them).

She was certainly a dullard when it came to food–toast was all she could think of. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BIG BOI-Tiny Desk Concert #793 (October 9, 2018).

Like everyone is America, I loved OutKast’s “Hey Ya” when it came out (still do).  And that album was pretty great (if a little long).  And then they kind of imploded.

I was always more of a fan of Andre 3000’s trippy side than Big Boi’s pop side.  And yet for this Tiny Desk, Big Boi is  aton of fun and the songs are really catchy.

These guys helped redefine the sound and style of hip-hop in the ’90s, incorporating funk and psychedelia while transcending genre boundaries. As half of OutKast — still the only rap group ever to take home Album of the Year at the Grammys —

The energy in the room was buoyant and vibrant from the moment they walked in the door. OutKast star Big Boi, Sleepy Brown of the prolific Atlanta production collective Organized Noize, and their eight-member backing band have been working together for 20-plus years, and their chemistry is instantaneous and undeniable.

And Big Boi is hilarious from the get go:

We have come from the planet of Stankonia to give y’all three big songs behind a tiny-ass desk.

The set starts with OutKast’s: “So Fresh, So Clean.”  It sounds as good as it did in 2000, and possibly a little better live.  Big Boi’s voice instantly sounds like it does on the record (the way he echoes clean).  The bass (Preston Crump) sound great running through the song and the gently echoing guitar (David Brown) sounds great.

The backing vocals (Keisha Williams and Terrance “Scar” Smith) are spot on.  Perhaps the biggest surprise comes from the trumpets (Jason Freeman and Jerry Freeman).  It didn’t occur to me that he’d use them, but they really make the track.

After the track, he cracks up the room by saying “the Tiny Desk needs a Tiny fan” (of course they are all wearing matching hoodies that say TRAP HOUSE (in the style of WAFFLE HOUSE).

Big Boi continues to thrive as a solo act, riding the charts with last year’s Boomiverse and its hit single “All Night.”

He describes the song as a “current pop smash hit with L.A. Reid–the first hit to launch that label.”  It opens with a super catchy and fun piano riff (very old-school sounding). The piano is a sample which DJ Cutmaster Swift plays on his Mac and then scratches it on the turntable.

Holy cow is that song catchy.  I love at the end when Big Boi and his rapping partner Sleepy Brown mime the piano part perfectly.

The final song is “The Way You Move” from 2003’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.  He describes it in a hilariously casual way as “one of the biggest things we’ve ever done.”  It opens with some great scratching and the snappy drums from Omar Phillips.  This is a song that was a little too poppy for me on the record, but man it’s an undeniable track.

It’s a terrific set and one that I wish was ten minutes longer.

[READ: October 14, 2018] “The Coast of Leitrim”

This story seems like a simple case of a loser-ish guy trying desperately to woo a woman.

Seamus Ferris is thirty-five.  He lives alone in an inherited house and he has fallen hard for a Polish woman who works in a cafe down in Carrick.  He has no mortgage, which is a plus, but he’s not especially exciting, generally speaking.

He feels that the situation is like a vast love affair, although he has never spoken to her–more than ordering anyway.  But he knew that she was sensitive, with a “dreamy distracted air” and she was “at a remove from the other mullockers who worked in the cafe.”  She was pretty but no supermodel–Seamus admitted he himself was not hideous.

Using some sly detective work–he peeked at the work schedule while using the toilet, he learned her name and then did some research on Instagram.  Her full name Katharine Zeileinski was unique enough for him to be able to narrow down the account quickly.  She didn’t post much, but what she did suggested she was single. That’s all he wanted. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CÉCILE McLORIN SALVANT-Tiny Desk Concert #790 (September 25, 2018).

The blurb talks about Cécile McLorin Salvant’s punk roots.  This made me thing that their might be some rough elements in these songs.

But these songs sound akin to old-fashioned-sounding jazz standards (even if she wrote them recently) in the vein of Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughn.

The nod to punk seems to come in the vaguely erratic piano which verges on atonality at times.  And yet:

From listening to McLorin Salvant’s exquisite performance here, I also couldn’t tell that when she was 15, she was listening to Alice in Chains, sported a Mohawk and was into what she calls “radical feminist punk stuff,” as she told NPR after the performance. “Sometimes I still really like Bikini Kill, and I still have my little Pearl Jam grunge moments.”

What can be heard in each song is a seasoned jazz singer with a vast vocal range, meticulous technical execution and a superb classical vocal foundation, which actually began when she was just 8. Her background in classical piano is evident in the inventive harmonic and melodic construction of the first three songs heard here; all are romantically themed McLorin Salvant compositions from her third album, For One to Love, recorded in 2015. The record won her a 2016 Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album.

“Fog” opens with some striking minimalist almost atonal piano playing.  The song veers through many different tones and styles throughout its five plus minutes.

About “Look At Me” she says, “This was originally called “‘Friend Zone’ which is a zone I know so well.”  The piano is delicate–twinkling–as she sings about being the friend when she wants more.

She says the next song is called “Monday,” “Lets see if I remember the lyrics.”  After introducing Foster, he comments, “I just learned this on the train here, so bear with me.”  This is notable because there is a lengthy, lovely piano instrumental part in the middle.

After a hog, Foster leaves and McLorin Salvant prepares for the last song.

McLorin Salvant closes with “Omie Wise,” an American folk song that tells the tragic story of murder victim Naomi Wise and her husband and killer, John Lewis:

Then pushed her in deep waters where he knew that she would drown
He jumped on his pony and away he did ride
The screams of little Omie went down by his side.

Feminist themes are common in McLorin Salvant’s music, and while “Omie Wise” addresses gender-based violence, she says she sings difficult songs like this to address an important historical legacy. “We don’t sing to our kids and we don’t know any of our folk music anymore,” McLorin Salvant says. “But like all of the history of race songs, coon songs, minstrel music, music from Vaudeville, all of that is like, ‘No, we’re not going to address that — that’s too ugly.'”

This song is especially powerful sung a capella and even more so when it is heard on the weekend that that piece of excrement Kavanaugh is having his Supreme Court hearings.

[READ: January 19, 2018] “Admiral”

T. Coraghessan Boyle is an incredibly prolific writer.  He writes about a huge variety of topics as well.  Some of his stories are down to earth and realistic while others, like this one, are based in a near-future fantasy.

The premise of this story is simple and not all that far-fetched (especially in 2007).  A rich couple has cloned their beloved dog, an afghan named Admiral, for $250,000.  They want to raise this dog exactly as the first Admiral was raised.  They believe in the cloning to create an identical dog, but they also believe in the nurture aspect which means they need the girl who dog-sat for him to do everything exactly as she did all those years ago.

That girl, now a woman, was recently laid off and needs some cash. So when Mrs Striker called and told her she had an opportunity, Nisha said… why not?

She returned to the house where she hadn’t been in four years but which was such a large part of her childhood. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JULIE BYRNE-Tiny Desk Concert  #788 (September 19, 2018).

Julie Byrne plays a quiet acoustic guitar and sings in a melodic whisper (almost).  She reminds me of Nick Drake in many ways.

Even in an office in broad daylight, Julie Byrne sings with both a husk and a whisper as if she’s gone a long time without speaking – as if she’s been alone, as if she’s been traveling. Her opening number at the Tiny Desk, “Sleepwalker,” sings of the road as a source of freedom.

I lived my life alone before you
And with those that I’d never succeeded to love
And I grew so accustomed to that kind of solitude
I fought you, I did not know how to give it up

Byrne’s guitar playing sounds very full as is each string gets its own special attention.

Julie Byrne’s hypnotic fingerstyle picking conjures a sense of wandering, a style she adapted from her father and a sound she grew up with until multiple sclerosis robbed him of that companionship and comfort. She now plays her dad’s guitar.

After performing “Sleepwalker” alone, Julie Byrne was joined by her musical companions, Marilu Donovan on harp and Eric Littmann on electronics. Together they conjure an ethereal compliment to Julie’s love of the open landscape.

“Follow My Voice” begins with just Byrne.  After a verse or so, the harp enters, making the song seem somehow even more delicate.  And the keys are there just to add a bit more substance–but not to solidify this delicacy.

“I Live Now as a Singer” is just the keys and the harp.  It reminds me a lot of Enya, with the washes of keys and Byrne’s deep but delicate voice.

[READ: January 5, 2017] “The Short History of Zaka the Zulu”

This story is set in a boys’ Jesuit boarding school in Africa.  The narrator is relating the story of a boy they nicknamed Zaka the Zulu. The narrator explains that Zaka was always odd but that they had never expected that hew would be accused of murder.

He was a very smart boy and he succeeded very well–which made him a little unpopular.  But he became even more unpopular when made head prefect.  He was so upright and sincere; he would get boys in trouble for the slightest infraction.  His worst punishment was when he made the younger boys stay for an extra period so that they could not watch the Mary Wards (the girls from Blessed Virgin Mary school) go for their weekly swim.

There were 40 or so Mary Wards every year.  They didn’t live with the boys, of course, but they were all part of the same school–the girls got the best Jesuit education the country could offer.   Only senior boys were allowed to mingle with the girls–particularly at the one or two dances each year.  It was felt that the girls had a civilizing effect on the boys. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SMIF-N-WESSUN-Tiny Desk Concert #787 (September 17, 2018).

As this Concert opens, you hear Steele or Tek, the duo who make up Smif-n-Wessun say, “Very mysterious as you can see.  I’ve been his partner for 20 plus years, so it’s alright.”   The other replies “I’m not gonna do nothing crazy, I promise.”

And with that yet another old school hip-hop act whom I’ve never heard of gets their 15 minutes of Tiny Desk time.  And once again, they are pretty great.

And the blurb seems to really love them:

Brooklyn-bred hip-hop duo Smif-N-Wessun – consisting of partners in rhyme, Steele and Tek – illuminated the Tiny Desk with their signature, 80-proof poetry: straight, no chaser. Their music, inspired by their gritty and pre-gentrified Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville neighborhoods, offers the vocabulary of veterans who survived the grimy streets. The[y] represent quintessential ’90s true-school hip-hop from the bedrock, when Timberland boots were standard issue.

Backing Steele and Tek is D.C.’s own Black Alley band.  The Black Alley Band played (and were awesome) with Nick Grant some shows ago.  About the band I wrote

I really like the live band, Black Alley.  The percussionist (Walter Clark) is particularly interesting with his congas and an electronic “plate” that plays all kinds of effects.  The bass (Joshua Cameron) is also great and the guitarist (Andrew White) plays a lot of interesting sounds.  I also like how muscular the keyboardist is playing simple chords.  And the drummer is pretty bad ass too.

For this show, they were more subdued and there were only four of them, but their live music was great for the duo and made the whole thing sound great.

Steele says, “It’s always different for us to perform with a live band.  If I look a little sweaty it’s because I’m catching the holy ghost, alright.”

Smif-N-Wessun set things off with their classic debut single “Bucktown,” an ode to their native Brooklyn, which uses their love for lyrical clapbacks as an allegory for overcoming the violence-ridden reality of their wonder years.

Tek says “This was the first single from our first album.  Came out in ’92 that’s probably older than most of you all in the room.”

Throughout the performance, the two emcees dance, share easy banter and express their spiritual connection to the music they’ve created over the years.

Things climax when the two perform “Stand Strong,” another favorite from their debut album Dah Shinin’. Anchored by the mantra, “I never ran / never will,” … the music decries the struggles of late-stage capitalism and the plight of the disenfranchised. It’s a revelation of love, life, and brotherhood in an era when the antiheroes were really just the ones cunning enough to avoid becoming victims.

Steele says this goes out to our street soldiers.  Then says he says Rest in Peace Anthony Bordain, Rest on Peace Todd Banger.  Stay Alive, people!

That survivor’s drive is personified when Steele lets his guard down during the performance and gifts the audience a little boogie, “You can dance to Smif-N-Wessun music too, y’all.

The set concludes with an exclusive premier of their new single, “One Time,” from their forthcoming album, The All, produced by 9th Wonder & The Soul Council.

Steele says “I’m nervous about the next one, this next song has never before been performed.  It’s fresh off our yet to be released (maybe by the time you see this the album will be out).  Hope you enjoy it because we definitely don’t know what we’re gonna do.  I know these guys sound amazing so just listen to them.”

The song is smooth and cool and again the live band (this is the first time they’ve played with Black Alley) sound fantastic.

[READ: January 6, 2017]  “A Modest Proposal”

I don’t always get to read Sedaris’ pieces in order (if they are even published in order).  But this one follows up on a piece he wrote a while back about him picking up trash by the side of the road.

If memory serves he was picking up trash as a way to get extra exercise.  Anyhow, he states that he is still doing this. And while it doesn’t actually impact the story directly, it’s great to see the continuity.

It’s also hilarious to see that while he usually find candy wrappers and the like, on one outing he found a three-inch dildo: “You’d think that if someone wanted a sex toy she’d go for the gold-size-wise.  But this was just the bare minimum, like getting AAA breast implants.” (more…)

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CV1_TNY_11_18_13Tomine.inddSOUNDTRACK: GoGo PENGUIN-Tiny Desk Concert #786 (September 14, 2018).

I’d never heard of GoGo Penguin before, but I was blown away by this Tiny Desk Concert.

The band is a trio: piano, upright bass, and drums.  They play jazz, I suppose.  But there are elements that are prog-rockish and avant garde (none of which makes it not jazz, I realize) such that their music, while instrumental, is genre defying.

GoGo Penguin models closely the leaderless jazz power trio set in motion by forbearers in The Bad Plus, but you can also hear the drippings of electronica groups like Bonobo, and drum-and-bass foundations akin to Roni Size with a bit more acoustic rattle (Turner even fashions his own prepared drum accessories from rope, duct tape, and metal rings, which you can see resting atop his ride cymbal and snare. He tells me he usually has more, but he hasn’t made new ones in a while).

This trio found a way to wedge themselves in the middle of the Venn diagram that overlaps musicians and music heads. Among my colleagues at NPR, I witnessed expressions ranging from studious squints to closed-eye meditation, those in the room experiencing GoGo Penguin’s tunes like they would a collage: the fine details as valuable as the larger shape.

It’s true that Nick Blacka’s fretless bass maintains a very jazz sound and Chris Illingworth has the fluidity of a jazz master on piano.  But it’s pointless to try to define it when you could just enjoy it.

“Raven” was inspired by a dream Chris had of playing chess with a raven.  It opens with ringing piano notes and a bowed double bass.  Then Blacka switches to plucked high notes while Turner plays the cymbals. After about a minute the song kicks into high gear.  The piano hasn’t change, but the bass is pulsing quickly and the drums are playing a fast but quiet rhythm on primarily the snare, but with flourishes left and right.  And it’s all really catchy too.  The rhythm section anchors Chris’ melodic piano lead as the song careens to a close that hearkens back to the opening.

The next one is called “Bardo.”

During his setup, GoGo Penguin’s pianist Chris Illingworth asked if he could remove our piano cover to “access the inside” and, after a few rotations of a screwdriver, he soon handed me a long plank of black painted maple, which has no convenient place to rest in the NPR Music office. If you look closely at the piano innards during “Bardo,” you can see a strip of black tape stretched over a few strings, opposite Illingworth’s bobbing head. It mutes a group of strings, turning them into percussive jabs and dividing the instrument into more explicit rhythmic and melodic sections. What you can’t see: GoGo Penguin’s audio engineer a few feet to the left of frame, dialing-in reverb effects on the piano, which we heard in the room. These two elements, in tandem with bassist Nick Blacka’s precise canvasing and drummer Rob Turner’s charged and delicate pulse, have heavily contributed to the sonic identity of this trio – a signal to jazz jukebox listeners that, “Ah yes, that’s a GoGo Penguin tune.”

It is so neat watching him the piano but making distinctly not piano sounds.  I would have argued that it was a synth making those sounds (which I guess it sort of is).  But the fact that he can do that while also playing a pretty piano melody is great.  I love the way Blacka repeats a simple high note–sliding up the neck of the bass before returning to that incredibly low note that really grounds the song.  All the way through this, Turner is playing some great drum parts–great off kilter rhythms that marry the snare with the toms in complex patterns. And then ending the song by sliding his stick across the top of the cymbals to create a high-pitched squeak.

The final song “Window” opens with a kind of contemporary classical piano melody.  The drums and bass starts playing a great counterpoint and the song just takes off from there.  There’s a false ending where everything stops, just briefly before resuming once more. It’s never clear who to pay attention to during any of these songs, there’s all so fun to watch.

[READ: January 4, 2017] “The Book of Simon”

Simon Rich continues to write very funny, rather blasphemous stories.

This one begins with the story of Job, the righteous Hebrew in the land of Uz.  He had more faith in God than anyone.  Satan made a wager with God that Job would not be so faithful if his life was hard.  And so Satan made Job’s life miserable but still Job praised God.

Four thousand years later however, the Hebrews had become less religious.  Oh there were still bar mitzvahs, but the themes were about Broadway or sports and the parents would hire dancers to come and teach the children dances, may of which were sexually suggestive.

So Satan started gloating.

And by the 21st century he would lean in and say “What’s yup now?  Or even more aggressively, ‘Sup now?” And this put God’s self-esteem at an all time low. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: HOBO JOHNSON AND THE LOVEMAKERS-Tiny Desk Concert #785 (September 12, 2018).

Hobo Johnson and the Lovemakers are an incredibly fun and spontaneous-seeming band.  With lots and lots of shouting

“Romeo & Juliet” opens with some quiet piano and the band screaming: “Oh shit!  Godammit!  Fuck!  With Hobo continuing…Oh, that’s my shit right there!”

This song is a remarkably insightful look into a failing relationship.  It follows so many different avenues as Hobo John (Frank Lopes) speak/raps/sings lyrics that seem very personal.

We’re just Romeo and Juliet
But getting drunk and eating Percocets
But just to ease the stress
But soft what light, thru yonder window breaks
It is the east, but Juliet just puked off the balcony
How romantic

And if Romeo & Juliet continued to be married
Thens there’s half of a chance
That their kids would get embarrassed
When all the kids at school all talk about their parents
And Romeo Jr. has to say they’re not together
And Junior will dream of the day when he’s a man
And what he’ll do to avoid that 50% chance
Of his kids feeling the way he feels
He’ll probably just stick with Netflix and Chill

It ends with an a capella poem that details the breakup of parents–the sound of people falling out of love.

This is a band always on the verge of emotional explosions, all while Frank Lopes, aka Hobo Johnson, is quoting Shakespeare and making references to Jay-Z, The Front Bottoms song “Twin Size Mattress” and so much more.

“Sex in the City” opens with a pretty, quiet piano melody.  Hobo Johnson recites all of concerns about sex and love.  Lines like (“I got a duvet the other day – how do you wash a blanket? In a washer? That’s what I found out”)

So I’m not a babymaker-looker
But maybe I am
To a woman who really loves me
for who I am or maybe who I’m not
Either way it’s getting bothered and hot — GROSS!

If I looked like Brad Pitt mixed with a bit of Jake Gyllenhaal
in a bowl of David Hasselhoff.
I wouldn’t be here at all, I’d been in Los Angeles.
Or at your mom’s house eating all those sandwiches –DAMN I LOVE THOSE SANDWICHES.

It’s a terrific song.

Then Bob brings some peach scones our for the band–scones that he made himself.  (He got up at quarter to 7.  Hobo: That’s pretty early.  I will eat all these my self [grumbling] We’ll share them as a band).

The band

accomplished something remarkable this year with their Tiny Desk Contest entry. They made a simple backyard video – a single camera shoot – that’s now been seen almost 10 million times on YouTube. And the song they played, “Peach Scone,” has unlocked a door to a dream – to play a Tiny Desk Concert and be heard. The song is a tale of one-sided love – a tale of kindness in the face of loneliness and depression. Now, “a couple of kids – five I guess” as its lyrics go, get to bring their creative, urgent and somewhat nervous energy from Sacramento, Calif. to play “Peach Scone” and more to millions of other listeners.

They start “Scones” and Hobo messes up the words and laughs.  “How does this work when you mes at Tiny Desk?”  Bob: “Just start again.”  “Really?” “And we play the embarrassing part, too.”  “Really?  That’s awesome.”

For this song the pianist plays drums and there’s lots more shouting.  Despite the aforementioned kindness.  It’s terrific and slightly different from their video.

At times it’s as much a storytelling session or personal confession than a musical performance, and for me it conjures feelings of empathy and understanding and compassion.

The final song “Creve Coeur 1” is quieter.  It starts with a sad piano melody and although it has moments that are louder, the ending feels very personal: “Sorry Frank, You’re much too late.”

I hope I get to see them as they make the rounds touring.

[READ: September 20, 2017]  “As You Would Have Told It to Me (Sort of) If We Had Known Each Other Before You Died”

I really enjoyed this story.  Even if by the end I had no idea exactly what was happening.  And even after thinking about I’m not sure I even understand the internal logic of the title, much less the story.

It begins, “I remember that it was fall.”

Then the narrator tells the memory in past tense but with a sense of surprise as everything unfolds.

First, the police ring his doorbell.  The narrator thinks it is Katja.  He hadn’t spoken to her in three days, but things were like that between them sometimes. (more…)

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