NOVEMBER 30, 1998:
Mutations (DGC/Bong Load)
God bless Beck. A scant four years removed from couch-surfing and painting thrift-store signs, Mr. Hansen is now at a phase in his career where he can do whatever the hell he wants with complete impunity. Leaving behind the flashdance ass pants of Odelay (for now), he's investigating the outrageous musical concept, "What would happen if I used an actual band to play my songs instead of the usual DATs and sequencers and loop-tee-loo?" The result is Mutations, which throws in trombone, harpsichord, sitar, viola, flute, and pedal steel, and emerges with a languid suite of songs perfect for passing the hash pipe. Sometimes it veers toward India ("Nobody's Fault but My Own"), vaudeville ("O Maria"), South America ("Tropicalia"), Stereolab ("We Live Again"), or Nashville ("Canceled Check," "Bottle of Blues"), yet it never strays far from Beck's own singular vision. The one thing it doesn't have is what everyone expected upon hearing he was making an "acoustic" record: the spare, ditchwater blues of 1994's One Foot in the Grave. He's already done that, so why do it again? Groovy, Beck.
3.5 Stars-- Christopher Gray
The Nashville artist known as Hayseed distills the music of his Kentucky backwoods childhood and religious upbringing with fluid grace on his debut, Melic. That's not to say it's an entirely smooth drink, but Hayseed's plaintive lyrics and country bumpkin image belie the singer-songwriter's moonshine kick. Clocking in under 45 minutes, Melic features a dozen songs from one of the few modern singer-songwriters who doesn't appear beholden to Bob Dylan. Hayseed's version of modern mountain music retains its rustic edge, but when his twangy baritone sings "the information age is upon us" on "Between the Lines," you know he's not just another banjo-and-fiddle yokel with a knack for phrasing. The lonesome plea of "Falls the Shadow" is reminiscent enough of a hillbilly "Midnight Rider" that his subsequent version of the Allman Brothers' "Sweet Melissa" comes as no surprise. "Precious Memories," in which Lucinda Williams duets and their voices blend as easily as if echoing in a church, is just as beautiful. Having performed alongside gospel singer Bobby Jones, Hayseed takes to a cappella ("Father's Lamet") and duets naturally; Williams appears again on the closing "Credo," and "Walk This Earth" features Joy Lynn White's pure-heart vocals. Hayseed does not veer from the path of righteousness for Triple A radio's sake, but took to heart the words of the Bible when it said "Make a joyful noise."
3 Stars -- Margaret Moser
What Another Man Spills (Merge)
The opening notes of this Nashville collective's fifth album make the unsuspecting
listener think they've accidentally cued up Andrés Segovia. Then a Tindersticky
chamber-pop orchestra crashes in, followed by captain Kurt Wagner's voice, which
sounds like Leonard Cohen with a cold. Add a steel pedal twang and it's clear that
this epic ensemble defies easy categorization. Lambchop is too richly orchestrated
to be indie rock, but not insipid enough to be bedfellows with most alt-country acts.
A cover of Curtis Mayfield's "Give Me Your Love (Love Song)" with full
orchestra, falsetto, and wah-wah guitar comes out of left field, sleazy enough to
fit on any soundtrack affixed with
4 Stars -- Kim Mellen
(107.1 KGSR/Radio Austin)
The number of big, marquee names -- Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, Steve Earle, and Shawn Colvin -- might be as thin as ever for KGSR's annual recap of on-air performances, and the number of middling tracks might be as thick as ever, but this year's edition of Broadcasts, volume 6, is, for those scoring at home, redeemed by Texans. Disc one opens with Lovett covering Townes Van Zandt's "White Freight Liner Blues," and lulls a bit until Robert Earl Keen's "Merry Christmas From the Family," followed by an inspired version of "Happiness" by Abra Moore, both taken from last year's KGSR anniversary show. The disc closes with the collection's best sustained run of performances, Colvin covering Paul Westerberg's "Even Here We Are," Michael Fracasso with "Chain Link Fence," and Cotton Mather doing "Homefront Cameo," interrupted only by non-Austinite and left coaster Mary Lou Lord's exceedingly clever "His N.D. World" (co-written by No Depression editor Peter Blackstock). The second disc continues with Texans, opening with Ray Wylie Hubbard's "The Messenger" and transplanted Austinite Ian McLagan's "Hello Old Friend," a tribute to his belated bandmate and fellow Centex transplant Ronnie Lane. Alas, the highlight of disc two is from a Californian, Peter Case's "I'm on My Way Downtown," with an honorable mention going to Jeffrey Gaines for "Right My Wrongs," but the rest of the second set is anchored by Jon Dee Graham ("$100 Bill"), the Derailers ("Can't Stop a Train"), and Jimmie Vaughan ("Out There"). Proceeds from Broadcasts go to the SIMS foundation which helps provide mental health services for local musicians, only fitting since the locals carry the bulk of the weight this time around.
3 Stars--Michael Bertin
The "Chef Aid" episode of South Park was no less unfunny than the show's been in recent months. The "Making of Chef Aid" special was also utterly devoid of laughs, even with John Lydon narrating it in a Robin Leach voice. This album, the merchandising gimmick behind the aforementioned two programs, is another story. It rates high chortles if only for the fact it contains a song co-written by Ol' Dirty Bastard and a member of Night Ranger, while the songs from the show that are sung by Isaac "Chef" Hayes work not only as full-length numbers, they actually get funnier in their complete form, and musically, aren't bad as pseudo-soul classics. Add to that the celebrity talent factor -- a great new song called "Homo Rainbow" from Ween, a new recording of a swell "lost" Devo tune, Elton John almost sounding like he's awake for a change on "Wake Up, Wendy" -- and you've got the makings of a great party album. To top things off, "Bubblegoose" by Wyclef Jean with the South Park kids neatly fills the gap in music left by the sad absence of a Chipmunk Gangsta Rock album. And then there's Eric "Fat Ass" Cartman's shrieking take on Styx's "Come Sail Away." Put 'em all together and you've got a f(bleep)ing funny disc.
3 Stars -- Ken Lieck
Gran Tourismo (Mercury)
"Raucous" isn't a word most people would use to describe this Swedish quintet, but Gran Tourismo finds the lovesick group moving a half-step in that direction. Actually, the only track on this new CD that comes even close to challenging those other dysfunctional Swedes, Whale, is the power-pop single "My Favorite Game," which is tearing up MTV these days and nicely cutting into Puff Daddy's contractual airtime. A grindy, headlong burst of whipcord guitars coupled alongside singer/sex-object Nina Persson's breathless vocals, it's the closest thing to "rocking out" the group has attempted since they took to covering various Black Sabbath songs in their live sets. Unlike '96's First Band on the Moon, however, this is the sound of a band in conflict with themselves, or at the very least, a band eager to move forward. Gone are the limp, over-angsty ballads of love gone sour, replaced by cutting, over-produced ballads and noodlings of love gone positively foul. Despite claims to the contrary, though, this isn't Cardigan-grunge. The majority of tracks here, "Paralyzed," "Erase/Rewind," and the acoustic "Nil" are "Lovefool" with the bubblegum turned down. It's still the same old lounge-rock, but this time, it's filtered through the lens of the millennium. If anything, Gran Tourismo borders on the Smiths' territory, at least in terms of cold pricklies and bleeding bubble gums, and more shellshock thrown in for good measure.
2.5 Stars --Marc Savlov
Worldwide (CreOp Muse)
In the Twenties, when the big bands of jazz walked the earth, the 78rpm record allowed orchestras approximately three minutes per side on which to swing. Seventy years and many musical epochs later, six minutes has evolved into 78 with the rise of CDs, and the problem has become having too much time rather than too little. Not so for Austin's long-running, avant-garde jazz collective, the Creative Opportunity Orchestra. Clocking in at 71 minutes, Worldwide, CO2's sophomore CD and fifth overall release, defines the word sprawling in the same way the 13-member band's last release, 1994's dazzling The Heaven Line, did as well. Anchored by Tina Marsh's 20-minute album centerpiece, "Milky Way Dreaming," a spoken-word, out-of-body journey to the stars, Worldwide features six wildy divergent compositions, none of them under eight minutes. Opening with John Mills' Ellingtonesque "Flywheel," into the three separate movements of "Milky Way Dreaming," through the earthy trombone and trumpet tones of James Lakey's "Episodes" (highlighted by Martin Banks' horn work), and peaking with the Turkish delights of Randy Zimmerman's whirling "Dervish," Worldwide is a memorably lavish series of suites haunted by Marsh's wordless vocals. "Homage" and "Ballad Borscht," both guided by Bob Rodriguez's piano work, round out the disc as if an extended coda, and the only thing missing from Worldwide is an additional seven minutes of music to push the limits of the CD format the same way CO2 pushes the boundaries of jazz.
3.5 Stars -- Raoul Hernandez
12° of Freedom (Thrill Jockey)
A basic tenet of "free" improvisational music is that you have to know how to play it right before you can play it free. Structureless improvised jazz music may be un-melodic, cacophonous, and confusing, but it's not random. For the Chicago Underground Duo, namely Chad Taylor and Rob Mazurek, both of the Thrill Jockey outfit Isotope 217, randomness does not come into play, but neither do they make evident the technical mastery that makes free improv exciting. Perhaps that's because the "songs" seem built for mood, not for solos. And mood they get. From the first moments of the first track, "The Pursued," the bleating cornet and approaching drums set up a writhing interaction without resolution, running quick scales and dodging melody until it marches into the next tune, the tense and spooky vibraphone-piano interlude of "Not quite dark yet ..." There are some hot be-bop licks on "January 15th," while the title track evokes a hymn played on a bugle. "Waiting for you ..." is guitar and vibes, looping what sounds like tune fragments in 5/8 and 6/8 time, respectively, begun and ended in the middle, done over and over, catching up and falling behind, endlessly. Within only a chord or two, or inside a single extended drum break, the Duo (with some help from guitarist Jeff Parker of Isotope and Tortoise) sets out to explore the non-melodic emotive possibilities of deliberately limited boundaries, and finds them all but limitless.
3 Stars --Christopher Hess
Antiguo (Blue Note)
Gonzalo Rubalcaba isn't merely a technically amazing pianist, he's also an innovative composer-arranger. Here, he's produced a landmark CD, his most important to date. "Converting authentic Afro-Cuban traditions in a manner that's compatible with the universal music language" is the pianist's aim, and in this quest Rubalcaba not only employs Bata drums and Santeria chanting, he also utilizes synthesizers and classically trained Dominican vocalist Maridalia Hernandez. Armed with a phalanx of electronic instruments, the Havana-born Rubalcaba creates a multitude of unique colors and textures, from lean to lush, aided by programmer Mario Garcia Hoya. His seamless blending of instruments, acoustic and electronic, and genres, and his layering of sounds, illustrates his dedication to perfection. Rubalcaba also contributes wonderful, sometimes breathtaking improvising here, which has some connection to the work of McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea. Like Bebo and Chucho Valdes, Rubalcaba has broadened the palette of Cuban music considerably. There are other excellent performers here as well. Trumpeter Reynaldo Melian deserves international acclaim, having mastered jazz and Afro-Cuban styles, while putting together ideas from both in his original playing. His solos are loaded with gracefully executed ideas. His primary jazz influences seem to be Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw, but he's clearly his own man. Drummer Julio Barreto plays with precision and musicality no matter what context he's placed in, and Puerto Rican percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo uses his virtuoso chops in a way that fits what Rubalcaba is trying to achieve. Has achieved.
4.5 Stars -- Harvey Pekar
Is This Desire? (Island)
With the release of 1993's Rid of Me, PJ Harvey effectively painted herself into a corner. Anchored in the blues, guitar-driven, bombastic, sexually charged, and generally over the top, it was ultimately too confining; PJ Harvey the band disbanded shortly thereafter. In retrospect, 1995's To Bring You My Love comes across as a transitional album. Free of the power trio format, Harvey wandered all over the map, and while the album retained a blues flavor overall, its explorations yielded a new direction. "Down by the Water" in particular, with its electronic instrumentation, impressionistic lyrics, and generally haunting atmosphere, reads as a blueprint for Is This Desire? On her latest release, Harvey bypasses the blues in favor of something less explicit and less derivative. The sheer intensity of her former sound simply didn't allow for the subtlety of tone and content that pervade this latest effort. Vocally, Harvey has all but abandoned the moaning and screeching of old in favor of an almost deadpan delivery and ghostly harmonies. Much of the material is laced with techno baubles and electronic trappings, but the effect is largely superficial; lyrically and structurally, these songs are less evocative of any particular style or genre than previous efforts, affording Harvey a far greater range of expression.
3 Stars -- Brian Barry
Deja Blue (House of Blues)
Although she now calls California home, Angela Strehli cut her teeth here in Texas, spending more than a few years on top of the Austin blues heap. Cut those teeth for 20 years, all told, and certainly picked up a few tricks along the way. On Deja Blue, she mixes gospel, soul, and R&B with her charcoal blues, delivering the goods with a seasoned voice that blends come-hither tenderness with a bit of take-your-sorry-ass-back-where-it-came-from bravura. The approach serves her well on the first stretch of the album: "A Stand By Your Woman Man," "A Man I Can Love," and the title track are all well-built tunes. A promising opening, but that promise fails to fully materialize, and the remainder of Deja Blue has a regrettably paint-by-numbers feel. When all is said and sung, Deja Blue is uneven, a tad vanilla, and a fair ways from earthshaking; the ground may ripple now and then, but you'll not see stars.
2 Stars --Jay Hardwig
Blues on the Bayou (MCA)
If B.B. King hadn't released a single album in the past 30 years, he would still have earned a place in the blues pantheon as the most influential bluesman ever. Nevertheless, we've seen an endless stream of mediocre releases that have tapped into every conceivable fad and sales angle over the years in an attempt to keep this timeless bluesman up with the current sounds. Ironically, in the blues business, honesty is still the best policy, and King seems to have come full circle with Blues on the Bayou. This is his most unencumbered, forthright, and back-to-the-basics album in many moons. Rather than sappy string section overdubs and posturing rock stars getting in the way, King and his working band sound as close to a live performance as a studio date will afford. The overall sound is crisp, but relaxed and soulful, with a prominent B-3 organ throughout. As for the 73-year-old King, after five decades as a tireless road warrior who still plays over 200 one-nighters a year, and as the longtime, unsurpassed Good Will Ambassador of the Blues, it's hard to imagine him sounding any better than he does here. When he laments, "I'm a blues man, but a good man, understand?," you hear it all come together. If King never plays another note, this album can stand as a testament to why he, and he alone, is still the King of the Blues.
4 Stars -- Jay Trachtenberg
No Security (Virgin)
The problem with reviewing Rolling Stones albums -- especially live ones -- is that it's all been said before. Again and again. It's disgusting to read the fawning over Mick Jagger, always followed by babble about what amazing physical shape he is in; this sentiment is never applied to Keith Richards. What kind of deal did these two strike with the devil to sound so good? The right one, obviously, if No Security is any indication. Here's Jagger sounding better than on any live album since Got Live If You Want It, and there's Richards carving out razor licks as if he were merely riffing. Almost all of the 14 songs on No Security were the filler songs and guest spots on the Bridges to Babylon tour, and few have been singles or radio hits, save a venerable "The Last Time," the concert staple "You Got Me Rocking," and the glorious crowd-chant of "Saint of Me." Hence, you get Dave Matthews on "Memory Motel," Joshua Redman on "Waiting for a Friend," and Taj Mahal on "Corrina Corrina," as well as sweet surprises like "Sister Morphine" and "Live With Me." There are few challenges left for the Rolling Stones, but the primary one is making their music matter as they enter their fifth decade in a new century. Maybe their solution to that challenge is classic Stones irony: This is a band about to tour again in support of a live album from a tour that supported a studio recording. Who says you can't always get what you want?
3 Stars -- Margaret Moser
What the hell is this, anyway? It's the son of country star Bobby Bare fronting a band that includes two guitarists and a dulcimer player amplified to an insane volume. Is it alt-country, rock, avant-garde, or acoustic singer-songwriter blather? The answer, of course, is all of the above. From the imperious-sounding 29-second intro "Boo-tay" to the last several cuts of noise and tape loops, this stuff is nearly impossible to categorize. Check out "You Blew Me Off." It starts off with a sample of Gary Glitter's sports-event chant "Rock and Roll Part 2," goes into a dead-ringer riff from Bowie's "Jean Genie," and includes the killer call-and-response chorus, "You blew me off/You turn me on." Or try "Soggy Daisy," an acoustic rant about the lives forgotten inside the walls of a nursing home. Then there's the industrial-strength stomp-and-thrash of "Why Won't You Love Me," complete with high-lonesome mountain harmonies and a hideously dissonant guitar solo. After the last 20 "bonus tracks" of tape-loop noise, take in the hateful answering-machine message of an ex-girlfriend, and then the song that she begged not to be written. What's dad Bobby think about all this? He sings on one track! So, what the hell is this, anyway? Great playing, weird songwriting, monstrous production, and of course, that dulcimer.
3.5 Stars --Jerry Renshaw
Weird Tales (Rykodisc)
With Weird Tales, its third recording, Golden Smog appears to be as much of a full-fledged band as it is a side project for members Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, Dan Murphy of Soul Asylum, Jayhawks Gary Louris and Marc Perlman, Kraig Johnson from Run Westy Run, and new addition Jody Stephens of Big Star. Ah, but looks can be deceiving, can't they, and time commitment isn't as defining as the quality of the material, which here, across the board, is still relatively weak, making Golden Smog still sound like an afterthought. As with Down by the Old Mainstream, the last collaboration, the best piece of work sits up front. The semi-scathing "To Call My Own" kicks things off with Hang Time-era Soul Asylum ringing guitars to go with the caustic wit ("There's a goldmine in the local scene/ You get nine lives, you need 13"). After that, it all begins to sound like a sub-par Jayhawks album, which shouldn't be too surprising given that Louris carries the lead vocals on five of the 14 remaining tracks. The only other standout is Jeff Tweedy's ode to fandom, "I Can't Keep From Talking." With only a couple of keepers, the idea of Golden Smog is still better than the albums by Golden Smog. They're A-team players, but pity the fool that goes in for this B-team effort.
2 Stars -- Michael Bertin
When inhaling nitrous oxide, the point of maximum high comes when the brain freezes like television snow on a cable-down winter's night. A blank, droning buzz: Queens of the Stone Age. Devolving from Kyuss, the Palm Springs quartet that has become posthumously cult thanks to its early/mid-Nineties reign of Black Sabbath/Misfits metal, Queens of the Stone Age -- Kyuss minus vocalist John Garcia -- make cutting off the oxygen to one's brain seem like an art form. Featuring Josh Homme's impenetrable wall of fuzz guitar, Q.O.T.S.A's full-length debut is one long nitrous blackout at your basic basement bong-a-thon. Though tunes like the lead-off track "Regular John" and "Give the Mule What He Wants," which comes toward the end of the album, use simple chord progressions to maximum effect -- just whip the head in an up and down motion, thank you -- the bulk of the album has an IQ lower than Ozzy Osbourne. "If Only" sounds like an Offspring demo, "You Would Know" rattles too obviously like Alice in Chains, and "You Can't Quit Me Baby" is duller than Led Zeppelin's ripoff of Willie Dixon's original. Like Fu Manchu, a Q.O.T.S.A contempory that also lays on the Sabbath sludge good and thick, or even Monster Magnet, these four earnest metal-mongers do the genre proud, but that doesn't mean a good buzz should leave you permanently stupid.
2 Stars -- Raoul Hernandez
Different Stages/Live (Anthem/Atlantic)
To recreate the original, shimmering-crystal intro to "Natural Science," Rush piped an acoustic guitar through speakers suspended from trees surrounding a pond; a microphone placed in a boat to capture the luxuriant chords as they bounced off water and ping-ponged between trees. Sure, for a similar effect the band could have simply processed the guitar through a little black box, but for Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart only the creative best will do. On the latest from the Canadian trio, the entirely live Different Stages, the luscious reverb of "Natural Science" and the remaining 30 cuts is created by concert halls. The first two discs are culled from setlists from the band's last tour, concerts which featured re-energized selections from their extensive catalog, creating a "best of" amalgam from such gems as the extended bass-fueled "Driven," the complete 2112 suite, and a rousing version of their existential chef d'oeuvre "Freewill." And unlike Rush's three prior live albums (the too-raw All the World's a Stage, and the too-polished Exit ... Stage Left, and A Show of Hands), Different Stages strikes a perfect balance between polish and punch. Fans of Rush's older material will be thrilled with a bonus third disc, a previously unreleased 1978 performance from London's Hammersmith Odeon. No questions and no debate, Different Stages is the Rush desert island release.
4 Stars --David Lynch
Coming Home Jamaica (Birdology/Atlantic)
Here's a case for corporate sponsorship. Armed with a generous endowment, the Art Ensemble of Chicago blocked over two months of studio time and housed themselves, with families in tow, at a beach compound near Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Recording little since the departure of Joseph Jarman in 1991, Coming Home Jamaica is the first AEOC release in six years, and for a group much more accustomed to three-day sessions, the end result is their most focused and enjoyable album in some time. Devotees might miss all the mystical noodling and call-and-response tension they've come to expect from this 33-year institution, but previously vague notions are now more fully developed. There's increased compositional clout, interesting changes, improved rapport, and while the trademark disjointed character of Lester Bowie's trumpet and Roscoe Mitchell's reed interplay remains intact, the album's idyllic backdrop has settled a relaxed confidence over the whole affair. This is not always a good thing, as the attempts at reggae and Caribbean beats display. The Jamaican countryside and its customary acoutrements are enough to lead anyone astray; these are easily forgiven missteps. Even with the irreplaceable hole left by Jarman, the vast majority of Jamaica, "Odwalla Theme," "Jamaica Farewell," "Mama Wants You," and "Malachi" present this endearing, enduring group at their absolute best.
4 Stars -- Jeff McCord
As if Ewan McGregor's poofed up pose of a half-assed Iggy Cobain doing a completely nonthreatening "TV Eye" is something we want to listen to over and over. Fortunately, we are spared of too much of McGregor's pale approximation of raw power. The back cover credits make glittery hay of the Venus in Furs and Wylde Ratttz, two bands assembled for this project, brimming with indie and oldie A-listers. For the Furs, featuring Roxy Music's Andy MacKay and Thom Yorke from Radiohead, the marquee billing is deserved; ViF contributes the film's main musical spotlights as backup band for Jonathan Rhys Meyers' Bowie/ Bolan-boy Brian Slade. The Ratttz, who appear only on one song, however, seem to have earned their billing by star-power default, as this much-touted combo includes some Sonic Youth, some Stooges, and Ew-y Ewan. The rest of the CD shines like an imploding codpiece bauble, rich with guest appearances: Placebo's sneering "20th Century Boy," Teenage Fanclub's "Personality Crisis," featuring Elastica's Donna Matthews, and Pulp's highwater and platform mark, "We Are the Boys." The searing originals, Eno's "Needle in the Camel's Eye" and Roxy's "Virginia Plain," keep it all true. As a document of the film, Velvet Goldmine evokes so many strong visuals, but as an exclamation point to the glam resurgence, what's missing here seems all too obvious: David Bowie, who would not consent to the use of his own music, is snuck in the backdoor singing behind Lou Reed's "Satellite of Love."
3 Stars -- Kate X Messer
Like Velvet Goldmine, this CD spawned from TV's surreally fey kiddie show transports listeners to its source: that magic mound from whence our heroes, Tinky-Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa, and Po, emerge each weekday morn. The comparisons don't end there, as any addled adult fan of the tubby tellie show will confess: Were there no Eno, there'd be no Teletubbies. While, admittedly, there's nothing directly connecting our loveable Fat Four to the glam revival, you've got to admit that song titles like "Dirty Knees," "Animals," and "Follow My Leader" seem straight out of Marc Bolan's butt. Some songs could fit right into VG's score without a blink. Okay, maybe not oompah opening track, "Puddle Dance," but certainly the moody Mike Oldfieldian "Ships" or "Tree" could nestle right at home with Brian Eno's finest. Composer Andrew McCrorie-Shand wrote and performed all of the pieces, injecting brilliant touches like synthesized banjo, glockenspeil, and sampled sheep amidst the soothing narration of manly Rolf Saxon. And kiddies, fret not: Our four cuddly, signal-receptive pals giggle and titter throughout. It's a sure bet that McCrorie-Shand will be discovered and heralded 20 years from now, when today's tikes, all grown up and hungry for nostalgia, will return to the womb of their first corruption into the world of lovingly twisted music. Again, again!
5 Stars -- Kate X Messer
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