Tag Archives: mainstream country

Album Review: Luke Bryan–What Makes You Country

Rating: 4.5/10

Okay, so honestly, this is the kind of album that really doesn’t give me much passion to write. It’s not great, it’s not terrible, it just exists. The vast majority of it is just kind of forgettable. That’s a pretty good summary of this, and I could take the quality songs from this and easily fit them into Memorable Songs.

But the fact that I can pull songs from this into that feature is improvement in and of itself. I feel I at least owe Luke a proper review because he’s showing some maturity and making at least marginally better music. His last album was mostly horrendous, and I’ve hated a good majority of his singles for the past five years. So when you go from spectacularly awful to okay, and even sprinkle in some quality, it should be commended. I’ve been one of Luke Bryan’s biggest critics–anyone who knows me at all will know this–and so I can’t ignore it when the guy’s making better music.

So let’s talk about the quality because you actually do get a few really solid tracks here. “Drinking Again” reminds you that one, Luke can actually use his charisma for good, as opposed to singing hookup songs in trucks, and two, that not all drinking songs are bad. This one’s fun and catchy and would make a good single. I daresay his fans would have enjoyed it more than the insufferable mess that is “Light it Up,” and hopefully, he will release this. “Most People Are Good” is just simply a nice song, and when the world’s going to hell all around us, we need stuff like this to remind us it’s not as bad as the media would have us believe. This is not going to be anyone’s Song of the Year or anything, but it’s a case of less is more, and it’s just nice to hear a song like this. Also, the production, as is actually the case for most of this record, is much closer to pop country than much of Bryan’s previous output, and although modern, this actually sounds like it should be allowed to be in the genre. “Land of a Million Songs” displays some of that too, as we have some prominent piano featured here, and the song itself is another highlight, an extremely well-written tune about doing anything to make it in the music business and constantly looking for things to say and adding verses to your songs. I can’t believe we’re getting a song like this from Luke; actually, it reminds me of a hidden gem we might have seen on one of Blake Shelton’s more recent albums–you know, before he released this current piece of shit. Side note here, isn’t it sad that Luke Bryan has actually produced a better album than Shelton this year?…but I digress.

Then we’ve got some decent songs–not anything necessarily to write home about, but definitely some more proof that Bryan strove for more maturity with this project. “Pick it Up” actually portrays a grown man–I didn’t know the same person who sang “Light it Up” was capable of this–hoping his son will learn from him and adopt some of his cool habits and good values. It’s kind of cheesy, but I’m sure it’s personal to Luke, and that’s more than I can say about every sex anthem by a river in a truck he’s ever produced. The title track isn’t bad either; it’s pretty catchy, and the overall idea is nice, asserting that anyone can be country, and it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what background you have. Good idea, but played out badly, as he then asserts he’s country because of pretty much all the clichés he normally uses in all his other songs. Still, I see what it was going for, and I’ll give him some credit. Same goes for “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset,”–it’s the same clichés as well, but at least there’s a story and a bit of depth to this.

There’s nothing that makes me cringe quite like any of Luke’s previous work, except the God-awful “Light it UP.” Even his loyal fans aren’t liking this too much, as they know it’s creepy and lame. His neurotic obsession with his cell phone would be enough to make me break it off if I were the girlfriend, but hey, that’s just me. Also, like him or not, Luke does have charisma, allowing him to pull off a lot of his previous material, and here, he just sounds completely checked out. The whole thing would really just be lifeless and boring but for the embarrassing lyrics. We don’t have anything else that horrible, but we do get some ill-advised R&B sex jam attempt in “Hungover in a Hotel Room” that just shouldn’t exist. It is just not sexy in the least bit and therefore does not accomplish its purpose at all. And there’s “She’s a Hot One,” which honestly sounds like a leftover from one of Bryan’s bro country albums that didn’t make the cut–and understandably, because it’s like a wannabe version of all those songs. I can’t be too disgusted by this one because it’s just…lame.

As for the rest, there’s literally nothing to say. It just runs together. The good thing here is that none of this is atrocious, and Luke Bryan has certainly proven he’s capable of atrocious. The bad thing is that although it’s a major improvement for Luke, it’s still not a good album. It’s just under exactly half good, and that’s simply because it drags along to fifteen tracks. “Win Life,” there at the end, isn’t a bad song, but by this point, you’re just tired of listening. They could have trimmed this down a little and risen this rating to a 5, even a 6. As it is, the ultimate flaw is it’s uninteresting. But that’s also a noticeable sign of growth because while the quality does stand out, the lesser material mostly just fades into the background. Coming from someone as polarizing as Luke Bryan, that’s improvement, and maturity, and he’s shown both on this album. I hope we get more interesting selections next time, but he’s definitely going in the right direction, even if he’s not quite there yet with this record.

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The Good

The Terrible

Album Review: Walker Hayes–Boom

Country Rating: -1/10
Overall Rating: 1/10

You think that negative rating is a joke, or a hyperbole, or at the very least an attention-getting device. No, it’s a reflection of how absurd it is that we’ve reached a point in time where we’re actually calling this country. I shouldn’t even have to comment on this album at all because it is so far out of my lane, so far removed from anything closely resembling music that I feel qualified to speak on, and yet that’s exactly why I’m compelled to call bullshit on this. Merle Haggard, Don Williams, and yes, even the more modern-sounding Troy Gentry are all rolling over in their graves somewhere right now from the knowledge that we’ve massacred country music like this. I dare you, any of you, to listen to anything from this record and tell me how it in any way, shape, or form resembles anything close to country. I dare you to tell me how you’d know, if listening to any one of these tracks, you were listening to a country radio station. It’s even worse than Sam Hunt because hell, at least Hunt was original. Granted, his spoken word/singing crap was and is a terrible idea, but original it was; Walker Hayes is the wannabe who can neither sing nor rap with even half the charisma of Hunt…and shame on country music for allowing itself to be tampered with this way; no other genre has so little self-respect, but country is forever in this identity crisis. God forbid people actually think we’re “too” country, so we let in shit like this.

The first half of this album is absolutely, mind-blowingly, shockingly awful. We start with “Beautiful,” which isn’t the worst thing here, but it’s essentially Walker missing an ex for well, we don’t ever really get too much of a reason except that she’s physically beautiful. So, potentially good idea turned basically into a shallow piece of crap that ultimately says nothing. OH, and I’ve mentioned this, but he cannot sing. “Shut up Kenny” is one of the worst things here–he’s driving around sick of hearing Kenny Chesney’s music because it reminds him of an ex, but instead of, I don’t know, turning off the radio, he just continues to yell at Kenny to shut up. He does contemplate ripping the radio out of the dash, though, which would somehow be easier than turning it off, I suppose. And then we have the ultimate douche anthem, the infamous single “You Broke up With Me.” Worst single of the year no doubt. The narrator here is just a completely self-absorbed jackass, and also, adding to the bad singing and bad rapping, we now have bad whistling. I’ll give “Halloween” credit for the idea it was going for, taking off masks and revealing yourself to the one you love, but the total lack of personality and his complete inability to rap make this pretty unlistenable as well.

And then this first half comes to the ultimate, horrifying conclusion of “Dollar Store.” Now, this, I think, at least knows that it’s stupid. At least I hope it does because if not, this singlehandedly proves Walker’s total lack of self-awareness. I think it knows it’s idiotic, though; it’s essentially a song about being dirt poor and going to the dollar store–“down to the dollar store, buy you whatever you holler for” would be an embarrassing enough line on its own, but someone needs to tell this guy that in country music, we put r’s in “store” and “for.” This song honestly could have been written in an actual country way, minus the stupid lyrics about being a sugar daddy and without all the urban phrasing, and been pitched to someone like Brad Paisley, and we’d all probably enjoy it. As it is, words cannot describe the horror and stupidity of this track…and yet, it’s not even the worst thing on this album.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves because at track 6, and yes, I’m as surprised as you are, we actually find a song that isn’t immediately horrible. Two, in fact. “Beer in the Fridge” is a heartbreak song, and he’s basically fighting a war with himself over whether to drink his last beer. He gave up drinking for the ex, but she’s also the reason he wants to be drunk. He still can’t sing, but I’ll give this song credit for actually being well-written and also for not making him sound like a giant douche. “Beckett” is pretty obnoxious, but again, he doesn’t sound like a complete douche, as he’s describing his child’s innocence and acceptance of people and saying he wishes he were more like that. I find this one pretty annoying and sappy, but it should be given a bit of credit for the idea. I don’t have much to say about “Mind Candy,” as it’s essentially Beautiful Part 2. It’s a terrible song as well, but after some of the earlier tracks, I can’t be shocked by this point…except for the fact he manages to name-drop Willie Nelson here in the most disgusting instance of blasphemy on one of these “country” records I’ve ever heard. Still, nothing can be as bad as what I’ve already suffered through on the opening half, right?

“Prescriptions” arrives to toss that ill-conceived theory right out the window. If this is released in 2018, I will tell you now that it will be the worst single of that year and quite possibly many years to come. This is another douche anthem, and I can’t even believe this is possible, but this guy is even more of a jackass than the “You Broke UP With Me” dude. He opens this thing by declaring that he’s trying to be mature about his break up and seeing his ex with someone else…okay, maybe this is possible given “Beer in the fridge,” but doubtful given “You Broke up With Me.” Then we get the most creepily detailed list of shit he’d like to happen to her…he wants her and her boyfriend to be drunk and half asleep one night, her to accidentally say his name instead of the new guy, them to fight about it, the boyfriend not to be able to get over it even though she promises him that it meant nothing, their entire relationship to crumble, them to seek therapy, and the therapist to have nothing to offer but prescriptions…if that doesn’t say mature, friends, I don’t know what does. OH, I should say that he adds that he was kidding, kinda.

Again, I’ll give credit where it’s due, and after the incredibly hate-filled song we’ve just been subjected to, it’s hard to imagine the next and final song would actually be mature and feature an example of love and kindness. This one is personal to Walker Hayes and describes Craig, a man he met in church who helped them out when the family was struggling and needed money. It’s a good illustration of a man living out his faith, and the personal details do add to this. It’s still not country by any stretch of anyone’s imagination, but this is actually a pretty good song in its rightful genre. It’s also the only example of actual passable rapping, although his singing still leaves much to be desired. Still, it’s the only time you can actually see a bit of personality to Hayes, well, personality beyond that of a completely self-absorbed asshole.

I can’t be fair to this album without highlighting the very few bright spots, and I’ve done that. That said, this is a terrible album and a slap in the face to country music. Walker Hayes is probably capable of more–see “Craig”–but he’s proven by his complete change of character since the Sam Hunt trend arrived that he’ll shape himself into anything that’ll sell. On his previous songs, he actually could carry a tune–it’s like he’s purposely forsaken his vocal ability to do this spoken word crap, and that’s all the more unfortunate because he can’t rap to save his life for most of this record. Plus, it’s not remotely country, and the challenge still stands if any of you want to try and contradict this opinion. Add to all that the fact that he comes off as a douche throughout a good chunk of this record, and yeah, it makes for a spectacularly awful listen.

P.S. And the title is about the stupidest thing I have ever heard…really?

P.P.S. If you want to purchase this, kindly go somewhere else. I love my readers too much to post such a link.

The Horrific

The Better

Album Review: The Rest of our Life by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill

Rating: 3/10

“I Need You.” “It’s Your Love.” “Let’s Make Love.” Meanwhile, Back at Mama’s.” “like we Never Loved at All.” “Angry All the Time.” “Just to Hear You Say That You Love Me.” All excellent songs. All duets by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. All evidence that a duets album from them could truly be special.

So why is this record so bland and boring???

It’s not terrible, not in the sense that you would turn off your radio if any of this came on. Well, except for the incredibly irritating closer, “Roll the Dice.” But there’s more than one way to make a bad album, and releasing a lifeless record, particularly when you have the kind of chemistry and vocal talent these two possess, is just inexcusable. Picking good duets is one of the hardest things for vocalists to do; you have to flatter both voices and make sure the voices complement each other. It’s hard enough to choose one, never mind an album full of them. But not only do McGraw and Hill have a proven ability to do this, they have a connection and chemistry between them that goes beyond their music and in turn translates into the emotion in their songs. Maybe you don’t like Faith Hill, or maybe you think she’s too pop, but the point is, this record had endless potential for excellent, genre-defying music. And it just falls flat on so many accounts.

First of all, just because they’re married, and just because they’re singing duets, does this mean every song has to be a love song? Jason Eady and Courtney Patton didn’t do this with their duets album; hell, Rhonda Vincent and Daryle Singletary didn’t even do this, and they chose some of the most clichéd duets ever to cover. With Tim and Faith, I understand the temptation to just go for love songs, and that could be excused if any of these weren’t generic, predictable, and/or hadn’t been done by them earlier in their careers. “The Bed we Made,” for example, just comes off as a cheap rip-off of the far better “Let’s Make Love.” In that song, they actually sounded impassioned. This song isn’t flattering to either of them vocally, especially straining Faith in her lower register, and generally just comes off as lifeless. That’s the problem with so many of these songs; there’s no passion. And it’s even more frustrating to listen to when you know just what kind of passion McGraw and Hill have been capable of before.

So where’s the problem? Much of it lies simply in not picking songs which flatter them both. “Speak to a Girl,” which actually is slightly better on the album because it’s actually not a love song and provides a little variety, doesn’t really work for either of them. It’s better for Faith overall, but she has to stay too much in the lower part of her register. But it’s also too high for Tim, and he doesn’t even sound like himself. You can’t hear his twang at all, and by the way, that’s another disconcerting thing here–Tim literally has twang on half of this and doesn’t on the other half. He’s definitely faking one or the other, and the ease with which he can turn off his accent is just not natural. When he forsakes his twang, he’s often singing in a higher register, like on the opener and title track, and he doesn’t sound natural at all, both because of the range and because of his tone. More effort went into making Faith sound good, probably because this is her “comeback” moment, but at times, her voice doesn’t always fit the song either. “The Bed we Made,” as previously mentioned, is much too low for her in the verses. “Break First” is another good example of this, as they sing in unison, and she sounds awkward having to sing so high. “Cowboy Lullaby” is where their voices come together the best, as well as “Damn Good at Holding On.” The former is a Tim-led track, and his twang is present in full force, inviting Faith to come with him and ride horses into the night. Her harmony blends in effortlessly here, and you’re reminded of just what they’re capable of. The latter is a Faith-led track, and once again, their harmonies actually fit here.

The problem is that even when the duets do work and fit their voices, there’s nothing especially memorable here. Where’s the unique, undying love in “I Need You” or the soul-shattering heartbreak of “Like we Never Loved at All?” The emotions here are so saccharine and the writing so generic that they ultimately don’t say anything real. The only exception is “Love me to Lie,” in which a relationship is crumbling. Faith takes the lead here, and she’s thanking Tim for being able to love her enough to lie about everything, not to hurt her by saying it’s over. I can see how some will probably really enjoy this, and I will say this one has more depth of emotion than really anything else here, but personally, I just find this horrid. If he loved her enough, he’d be honest with her…but hey, that’s just me.

Most people will either love this (mainstream listeners, Tim and Faith fans, those drawn in by sappy love songs that say nothing of importance), or else just find it meh and uninteresting (probably most of you reading here.) And taken as songs, most of these would indeed get a 4 or a 5. Sprinkle in a 6, perhaps, for “Cowboy Lullaby” and “Damn Good at Holding ON’ and a 1 or 2 for “Roll the Dice.” But it’s the incredible sameness and nothingness about this all that renders it inherently awful, and when you consider the potential it possessed, this is majorly disappointing. Even Blake Shelton’s album, which also received a 3 here, has one great song. Sure, there’s nothing horrific here, but there’s also nothing good about it whatsoever. I won’t return to any of this. None of it is worth my time, and that’s a real shame because if you listen to any of the seven songs listed at the top, you’ll understand what this record could have been–and be sorry it wasn’t.

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Album Review: Carly Pearce–Every Little Thing

Rating: 5/10

What, you gave this a lower rating than Kelsea Ballerini? I know that’s going to be the reaction from many here, and let me just say, Carly Pearce is definitely going for an actual blend of pop and country, as opposed to shamelessly marketing straight pop songs as country. And you know what? It literally works on half this album and fails on the other half.

We start this record with an electronic beat that dissolves into “Hide the Wine.” Carly’s trying to hide all the alcohol so she won’t be tempted by an old flame, and the lyrics are quite catchy. But this song gets somewhat ruined by production, and it’s hard to call this anything other than straight pop. You get the sense Carly Pearce is not exactly trying to go for this, but the producers wanted to make sure she opened it with something more mainstream.

And then we get “Careless” and “Every Little Thing,” and that unique, cool thing about Carly starts to shine through. It seems her country instrument of choice is the dobro, and it’s cool actually to hear it featured together with more modern, pop-leaning textures. It works very well on “Careless,” as she is telling her ex to get lost because he is just “the boy who cries love.” And “Every Little Thing,” although definitely overproduced, allows her to shine as well. I prefer the more stripped-down live version of this, and I tend to think that’s what Carly Pearce intended for the song, but still, this song remains understated enough to let her vocal talent come through. She’s a good emotive interpreter, as we’ll see several more times on this album, and Nashville should let her use this to her advantage. It’s proven it can work because “Every Little Thing” did get the on the Verge treatment, but it has also sold well and resonated with the public.

But we can’t take too many chances like the title track, and that’s evidenced by the next two selections, “Everybody Gonna Talk” and “Catch Fire.” The former is one of those ever-present “let them say what they want about our relationship” songs that never really tells us why the relationship is so taboo in the first place. This is okay for what it is, but again, it’s not showing off Carly’s strengths as a vocalist. And “Catch Fire” is one of the worst things here–it’s some sort of obnoxious hookup song, and that’s pretty much all you need to know. I have no use for this shit anymore. It was pointed out on another forum that they probably wanted Pearce to show attitude, and that’s painfully evident here, but she just sounds out of place.

Equilibrium returns with “If My Name Was Whiskey,” and once again, you can see more of Pearce’s vulnerability and vocal delivery. The song is saying that if she’d been whiskey, her ex wouldn’t have left her and would do anything to keep her. It’s a moment where the blend of modern and traditional is done very well, and you can see that if they allow Carly to take more chances and really develop her sound, her style could be unique and perhaps find favor with both mainstream and independent fans.

Then we get “Color,” another obnoxious, overly perky song, this one about love. This one is just as useless as “Catch Fire.” But again, Pearce shows more of her potential in “I Need a Ride Home.” This one is overproduced at the beginning, but eventually works, and the lyrics are clever, as it’s about needing a ride back home to her childhood, as opposed to another drunk party song.

And then the rest of the album is just sort of meh–we’ve had outstanding and horrific in equal parts, and now it settles into just okay. “Doin’ it Right” isn’t bad, and her vocals do manage to stand out some, but again, it’s too much pop, instead of the cool blend of pop and country pulled off so well on some of these songs. “Feel Somethin'” and “Honeysuckle” are just pretty unremarkable, and yes, suffer from overproduction. “You Know Where to Find Me” does capture more of Pearce’s individuality–it’s not as much of a standout as some of the others, but it does manage to separate itself and showcase Carly’s voice. And then we get “Dare Ya” for the closer, which, although I’ll give it credit for featuring more pop country instrumentation, suffers from truly stupid lyrics. This one’s essentially “Catch Fire” Part 2, except that she says she’s not going to make the first move because “I’m a lady like that.” IN a way, this is almost more obnoxious than the “attitude” on “Catch Fire.” That said, nothing past track 8 here really does anything for me significantly either way.

So, overall, this is a mixed effort. It’s literally half promising and half discouraging. You can tell that Carly Pearce made an effort to bring songs of substance to this project, and you can also see that she can blend pop and country well if given the chance. But there’s also the mark of Nashville and pop producers littered all over this record, and often, Carly’s individuality is forsaken for misguided attempts at popularity. But let her develop–“Every Little Thing” is selling well, and it’s not straight pop. It’s a pop country ballad. It’s got a dobro solo, for God’s sake. Music row needs to learn from this and let Carly Pearce become a unique, cool artist, blending the traditional and the modern. If they get out of the way, I can see a lot of potential from her, but unfortunately, it’s only allowed to blossom for half of this record.

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When it Works

When it Fails

Album Review: Midland–On the Rocks

Rating: 7/10

Look, Midland are full of shit. I know it, you know it, and Midland sure as hell know it, and they should drop the bullshit about how they’re this bar band from Texas. But they aren’t going to, and we can either spend time hung up on that, or actually focus on the music. I can understand the criticisms, but look, there are a lot of artists I don’t like or respect personally that make fine music. You wonder why I don’t have a picture accompanying this review? Well, think about this: I don’t look at the outfits. Yes, I’ve seen the stories, but it’s easier for me to assess the music on its own merit. Many of you, and understandably so, judge a lot about an album or artist simply by the cover, something I didn’t honestly take into fair account until the John Moreland record. At that point, I saw as many comments on the cover as on the album. I see remarks all the time on the image of the artist, usually derogatory ones on mainstream artists peppered all over SCM threads, just to be blunt. Anyway, at that time, after I became curious at the scrutiny the Moreland cover had received, we started adding captions here for many of our covers, to give blind readers that advantage of being able to discern things from the cover art. Indeed, sometimes these captions have given me insight into my reviews. When you see the Steel Woods cover with a farmer biting into an apple staring into a hurricane and then hear “The Secret,” it’s all the more intense. Liz Rose’s cover adds more to that album too. But here, with Midland, I want you all to take your focus off that for a moment and just think about the quality of the music. I know this is ridiculous, and that you’ve seen plenty of pictures of them and their cover from other outlets, but try to understand the point I’m making here.

So we put this record on, all extraneous bullshit stripped away, and I’ll be damned, it’s traditional. Maybe not the second coming of Haggard, but I’d say 90’s country. NO electronic drumbeats, plenty of steel and fiddle, yeah, you know, those things we used to take for granted in country music. And this came out of Big Machine. I didn’t know it was possible in 2017. I didn’t know there were still people left in Nashville who could play actual instruments for an entire thirteen-song album. And you want to talk about songwriting by committee? Yeah, I’m not a fan of that either, but isn’t it refreshing to see people like Shane McAnally actually lending their names and talents to something resembling country music? You know, the guy that put Sam Hunt on the map?

And that’s not to say this album is going to be the best thing I’ve heard all year, not by any stretch. The best word for it is consistent. It’s solid all the way through, and it took a few listens to sink in. At first, it was pretty unremarkable to me. A couple listens in, this would have probably gotten a 6 from me. There are a couple life-on-the-road songs here like “Electric Rodeo” and especially “Check Cashin’ Country” that just seem fake–no, not because Midland haven’t traveled all over Texas, just because they’re a young band, and they don’t have the experience anyway. These songs just seem clichéd, and actually, that’s the biggest problem with this whole record. The songwriting by committee thing is most evident in this respect because you don’t get personal details from Midland; it’s great that the style is traditional country, but much like Alex Williams’ latest, this often feels like an interpretation of style instead of anything resembling personal expression. It’s a debut, and just as with Alex, I think we can forgive that for Midland. It’s the clichés that held this back for me at first, but equally, the songs are better as a whole than those on the Williams album, so it’s a 7, but a hesitant 7.

I said the songs are better, and it’s true–this album just won me over after awhile. It’s hard to hear “Make a Little” and not smile, both at the country instrumentation and the catchy melody. There’s “More Than a Fever,” which reminds me of something George Strait might have recorded later in his career. There’s “Somewhere on the Wind,” which manages to pull off the road-weariness thing pretty well. Clever details and hooks in songs like “At Least You Cried” and “Out of Sight” elevate these tracks as well. As I say, it’s not groundbreaking material, and there’s not a whole lot I can write about it, but it’s very solid.

I wish Midland had never lied about their background because a lot of people, myself included, would have never given a shit where they came from. But you know what? In a way, I get it too because from the shit storm I’ve seen on Twitter this week, I daresay there are some narrow-minded people who would have never given this band a chance even if they had been honest. It’s that narrow-mindedness that I hate in the independent/Americana/Texas scenes. And if you deny its existence, I present Sam Outlaw, his name and his previous occupation in advertising, as Exhibit A. How many people don’t give him a chance because of either or both of these things? It’s no excuse for Midland’s lies, and I think that’s done more harm than good, but in a way, I understand it. I’m sorry they didn’t let the music speak for itself, but we as music listeners can do just that, and that is how I for one choose to approach Midland. And if you do give this a chance, you’ll find some pretty good country music.

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