Issue 12-47 November 29 2018

Cover photo © 2018 Jim Hartzell

 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Memphis sensations, Ghost Town Blues Band. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Alastair Greene, Kevin Burt, Brian Ames with David Danced Collective, Crudelia, Jonathon Long, The Bob Lanza Blues Band, JW Jones and RC and the Moonpie Band.

We have the latest in Blues society news. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!

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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

alasttair greene cd imageAlastair Greene – Live From The 805

Rip Cat Records RIC 1805

20 songs – 101 minutes

West Coast firebrand Alastair Greene follows up on his critically acclaimed 2017 studio album, Dream Train, with this two-disc set captured in front of an enthusiastic crowd in his hometown, Santa Barbara, Calif.

This release solidifies his commitment to the blues-rock idiom after splitting much of the past seven years as lead guitarist for one of the most enduring rock groups of all time, The Alan Parsons Project. It displays Greene’s talents at their best, delivering wave after wave of intense, powerful music that gives listeners little time to catch their breath.

Now in his late 40s, Alastair is the grandson of trumpet player Chico Alvarez, a member of Stan Kenton’s band, and trained as a pianist and sax player. He picked up the guitar in high school and studied at Berklee College Of Music in Boston for two years before returning home and embarking on a professional career, working both in blues and rock.

Greene formed his own band in 1997, but has often shared his talents. In addition to Parsons, he’s worked with guitarists Aynsley Dunbar and Franck “Paris Slim” Goldwasser and harp master Mitch Kashmar. His own unit has opened for dozens of top acts, including Mickey Thomas, Jonny Lang, John Mayall, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and others.

Delivered in a format that might remind some listeners of Gov’t Mule, Cream or ZZ Top on steroids, Live From The 805 is a stripped-down, balls-to-the-wall effort. He’s backed here by Jim Rankin on bass and harmony vocals and Austin Beede on drums. Their only assistance comes from Chris Chalk, who handles lead vocals on one of the 20 cuts, most of which are live versions of tunes from Greene’s previous four CDs.

Alastair fires out of the gate with “The Sweetest Honey,” the account of “stealing honey” from the sheriff’s wife. Now the lawman’s out to take his life. It’s chockful of the rapid-fire, single-note runs Greene’s known for. The tempo slows slightly and the rhythm gets a little funky for “Big Bad Wolf.” Three blues shuffles – the speedy “Trouble At Your Door,” which puts his picking skills on display, “3 Bullets” and “Red Wine Woman,” in which Alastair’s guitar runs form a chorus with his vocals – follow before the rhythm section is featured in the percussive “Say What You Want.”

A rock-steady take on Albert King’s “Love So Strong,” the first of four covers in the set, is up next. The rocker “Down To Memphis” precedes an interesting cover of Junior Wells’ familiar “Lawdy Mama” and “Lucky 13,” a blues-rock pleaser.

Disc two opens with “Dream Train,” the fiery title tune from Greene’s latest release while “Back Where I Belong,” up next, is a driving boogie. A military drum beat opens “T’other Way,” which has an airy, almost psychedelic feel before erupting into a rocker. “Last Train Around The Sun” an unhurried, stop-time rocker, flows into “Love You So Bad,” which keeps the interesting beat going, and “Rain Stomp,” which features Alastair on slide.

Green reinvents Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man” next before Chalk takes the mike for “First Born Son.” A cover of Gwendolyn Collins’ and Hugh Williams’ “Shoe On The Other Foot” follows before “Walking In Circles” closes the set.

Available through Amazon and iTunes, this one’s for you if you’re into blues-rock. Fair warning, though: Eat your Wheaties and take your vitamins before you listen to it. At an hour and 40 minutes in length, this one will leave you exhausted unless you’re well-prepared!

Reviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.


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kevin burt cd imageKevin Burt – Heartland & Soul

Little Village Foundation

12 Tracks/52:02

Once Kevin Burt took over the stage for his set during the final round of the International Blues Challenge, held in Memphis in January and sponsored by the Blues Foundation, it became apparent in short order that he would get strong consideration for the top slot. When the judges decision was finally announced, Burt was indeed finish as the top scoring act in the Solo/Duo category. Adding to that recognition, Burt also was awarded the Lee Oskar Harmonica Player and the Cigar Box Guitar awards, the first time any performer had swept those three awards.

After spending years playing solo shows in clubs and restaurants as often as six nights a week to support his family through his music career, the singer now had the recognition needed to move his career in new directions. As he stated in an interview with Blues Blast earlier this year, “I have the opportunity to step into the room, and I want to prove that I deserve a seat at the table. I want to earn that. There are plans to get into the studio and create a product that is release-worthy. In the past, I have invested in my family rather than the studio time. Now I have to make that investment. Maybe I should have done that 6-8 months ago. The songs are there, so we need to line up a studio and possibly a producer. I have never been considered a recording artist. I am a performing artist. Typically, I have been doing over 300 shows a year, with the record being 420 in one calendar year. With a wife and two kids, if I am not playing, I am unemployed. That it is not OK. My family is behind me 100%, as are the righteous souls in the world who have been there for me over the years. I look forward to the opportunities, whatever they end up being”.

With his new release, Burt leaves no doubt that he has successfully made the transition to recording artist. His striking voice immediately commands your attention from the opening notes of “Day Day,” one of eleven original compositions on the disc. Recorded at the notable Greaseland Studio, co-producers Kid Andersen and Jim Pugh surround the singer with just the right amount of instrumental and vocal support, making sure that the focus never sways from Burt’s expressive voice. Andersen also plays guitar while Pugh handles all of the keyboard parts. The legendary bass player Jerry Jemmott forms a formidable rhythm section with drummer Derrick “D’Mar” Martin and Jon Otis, son of Johnny Otis, on percussion. Lisa Leuschner Andersen handles the backing vocals.

“Real Love” gives listeners some samples of Burt’s talent on the harmonica, which he typically plays mounted on a rack, leaving him free to play his acoustic guitar, which is prominently featured on the lone cover on the recording. Burt stunned the audience in Memphis with his interpretation of the Lennon & McCartney classic, “Eleanor Rigby”. On the recorded version, his voice cries out with growing intensity, pleading for each of us to recognize the shared humanity in all of the troubled souls we encounter each and every day. On some tracks, his tone and phrasing reminds listeners of one of Burt’s influences, singer Bill Withers. “I’ve Been Watching You” is a vigorous declaration a man intently focused on a love interest while “Thank You” is a soothing ballad that allows Burt to reflect on life, freedom, and family.

Picking out some blues licks on his guitar, Burt gives a passionate recounting of being left alone with a worried mind on “I Don’t Want To See You No More”. Another ballad, “Your Smile,” is a touching ballad for the singer’s children. “Smack Dab In Te Middle” starts out with some harp and slide on a resonator guitar, but after one verse, the band slides into a syncopated rhythm, with Burt’s spirited harp blowing providing a suitable contrast for his mournful vocal. The slow blues,”Never,” is another standout track, Burt’s passion steadily rising with each note, drawing listeners into the emotional core of his artistry. The disc closes with Burt playing harp and guitar on “Wake Up, Baby,” a driving, solo acoustic tune centered on the back door man theme.

Under the expert guidance of Andersen and Pugh, Kevin Burt now has a recording that makes it eloquently clear that the judges at the IBC got it right. All of the years of hard work have come to fruition, as he bares his soul time and again, making this one worth many a listen!

View the interview with Kevin Burt here:

Reviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a member of the Board of Directors for the Blues Foundation. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!

 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8 

brian ames cd imageBrian Ames with David Danced Collective – Myth and Truth

Rax Trax

12 songs

The Blues and Gospel are flip sides of the same coin. Most foundational Blues musicians started their musical journeys in the pews of their family church. Country Blues musicians were often preoccupied with God, Jesus and Gospel music; the romantic and compelling image of Son House presiding over a bunch of booty shaking on Saturday night then rolling into church and presiding over some sacred grooving on Sunday morning. Brian Ames, the Chicago based singer and bassist, has compiled a fine set of music with Myth and Truth that highlights the sacred/secular by using a hard edged Blues Rock approach to classic Blues, Gospel and Country Blues material.

Brian Ames is a strong singer with a clear and well defined voice. As a bassist band leader he is also smart about the role his instrument plays in music such as this. He doesn’t overdo it with the low end. He and drummer Larry Beers are locked in and don’t get in the way. They allow for Ames’s lead singing, the material and the guest musicians to shine. Very importantly there are excellent guitarists on this record. Producer Noam Wallenberg plays rhythm on almost every track. Multi instrumentalist Packy Lundholm plays lead guit, piano and percussion all over the place. Other six string ringers include Jim Newcomb, Ronnie Stoops and Jamiah Rogers. This wouldn’t be much of a Gospel record if there weren’t a bunch of voices too. Singers Char McAllister, Jennifer Hall and Jim Schlueter add to the reverie and Melo Tripp adds excellent flow, rapping on two tracks.

About that rapping, usually rap verses inputted into Rock music is weak and really should be avoided at all costs. On the two tracks here featuring Melo Tripp, “Books of Moses” and “Pure Religion,” the conceit works. Both songs have a strong Funk foundation. The arrangements for the rap sections of both songs are similar and smart. The band breaks down to drums, bass and minimal melodic accompaniment. There is a strong groove behind Tripp’s excellent spitting. Tripp has a straightforward and clear delivery that is indebted to the cadence and timbre of Blues greats such as Muddy Waters or Little Walter as much as rap forefathers Chuck D and Q-Tip. Leading out of each rapped section the band hits it super hard with a charged up chorus. This allows for the transitions to feel connected to the song, making the rapped verses a bridge and structurally sound. (For extra credit check out Tom Wait’s version of “Books of Moses” for a different take, and anyone who hasn’t heard Blind Willie Johnson’s “Pure Religion” needs to do that right now)

Yes there are the perfunctory readings of “Wade in the Water” and “John the Revelator.” “Wade” is fine and very hard rocking even though it doesn’t really add much to the existing field. The winner here, and possibly the strongest track on the record, is “Revelator.” When your’s truly sees this track on an album like this, I’m skeptical. Few musicians have been able to even get close to the manic menace of Blind Willie Johnson’s seminal reading. By slowing the song way down to a funeral march Ames and Co. infuse this war horse with emotion and yearning. A slippery slide lead by Ronnie Stoops and the stripped down arrangement of guitar, bass and drums, helps to punctuate Ames’ strongest vocal performance on this record. This “Revelator” is unremitting.

Myth and Truth is a Blues Rock record about Jesus, God and religion. This music is removed from the original roots of Rock and Blues, when Rock n’ Roll was born out of the sliced speakers of guitarist at Sun and Chess studios. Myth and Truth is something harder and more modern. With wailing, delayed guitars and a few Hair Metal flourishes, this record transforms older devotional songs into big sized stompers and bangers. It’s a cool effect that is made cohesive by the excellent performances and obvious devotion to the material. If you are a religious person who likes to rock out to your God, check this out.

Reviewer Bucky O’Hare is a Bluesman based in Boston who spreads his brand of blues and funk all over New England. Bucky has dedicated himself to experiencing the Blues and learning its history. As a writer, Bucky has been influenced by music critics and social commentators such as Angela Davis, Peter Guralnick, Eric Nisenson, Francis Davis and Henry Louis Gates Jr.

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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8 

crudelia band cd imageCrudelia – Threshold

Self released

9 songs/33 minutes

Blues and heavy music such as Metal, Punk and Hardcore have often had connections. Motorhead and Black Sabbath have Blues elements in their music even if the connection is less explicit than with Led Zeppelin or AC/DC. Punk and Hardcore pioneers like Richard Hell and the Voidoids, the MC5 and the Sex Pistols have Blues elements too; even if less obvious than the elements in The New York Dolls or The Stooges. Italian band Crudelia (possibly translated as “The Cruel”) fit right into this Heavy Blues crease. Their debut Threshold is a high powered, raw jolt of Heavy Metal Blue Power with a Punk middle finger defiantly raised.

What makes Threshold so heavy and brutal is the ragged bark of singer Smokin’ Tiglio and the adrenalized jangle of guitarist Eugenio Suvorov. This music is sung in English and, as with many vocalists not singing in their native tongue, the lyricism and phrasing are unique and fresh. Smokin’ also sings all from his throat with a morbid Heavy Metal guttural wail. Overdubbing multiple guitar parts, Suvorov balances clean electric and acoustic full chord strumming with hopped up distorted wailing and fuzzy face melting. The vocal and guitar elements are pinned to earth by funk informed bass slapping by Vincent Modenesi and clean straightforward hammering by drummer Frank Funk.

When the four elements of Crudelia are firing on all cylinders a stretchy high wire act takes place balancing raw power, morbid dystopian depression and hard edged pulsating rhythm. “Gold Tonight” is a prime example. The guitar figure is a hopped up take on a John Lee Hooker styled boogie. The drums pummel and you can hear the cymbals being pushed to the point of breaking. Smokin’ Tiglio sing/yells almost indecipherable lyrics like the demented later musings of Captain Beefheart. At 2:39, “Gold Tonight” is a head banging mosh pit crusher with a bit of swagger. This mosh-swagger aesthetic plays out in “The Blues” (decidedly not a Blues song), “Muddy Waters” (not seemingly about Muddy) and title track “Threshold.” “Threshold” has the hardest riffage on this record and the ability to crush the human soul. This track should have a warning label against neck trauma from head banging.

The flip side of all this raw power is dark brooding ballads about loss, death, murder and sadness. Stand out album closer “Miriam” is the best example of what Crudelia can do with acoustic guitars and unrelenting ache. Begging for forgiveness and acknowledgment, Tiglio croaks this plea of regret and murderous mania. With slippery wet electric guitar studding the acoustic rhythm and a gauzy, octave blasted lead solo, Suvorov creates his most expressive and creative soundscape.

Ballads and traditional structures are not Crudelia’s wheelhouse. Tiglio sounds a little too affected on some of the slower material, his throaty highly stylized delivery not able to convey enough emotion and character. Similarly when Suvorov’s Punk informed high speed strumming is slowed down, there isn’t room for the music to breath. The one Blues structured track “I pay for it” falls a little flat. The guitar playing is a little too obvious, the singing a little too garbled and the rhythm section sounds bored like their waiting to rock out again.

Threshold is Crudelia’s 2nd album. It is clear that this band is finding its sound and there are plenty of times on Threshold that they hit the mark. This is a talented band that make emotional music. They take the energy of Punk and Metal and mix it with Blues and Boogie in a very interesting way. Anyone who discovered the Blues through heavy influences such as Motorhead or Zep will find plenty to thrash to on Threshold and should keep an eye on these Italian wildmen.

Reviewer Bucky O’Hare is a Bluesman based in Boston who spreads his brand of blues and funk all over New England. Bucky has dedicated himself to experiencing the Blues and learning its history. As a writer, Bucky has been influenced by music critics and social commentators such as Angela Davis, Peter Guralnick, Eric Nisenson, Francis Davis and Henry Louis Gates Jr.

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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8 

jonathon long cd imageJonathon Long – Self Titled

Wild Heart Records

CD: 11 Songs, 37:29 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Guitar Monster Blues

Before an artist begins his/her creative work in earnest, s/he often plays around a little. Authors “free write.” Painters take a worn or fading canvas and go all out. As for Louisiana guitar slinger Jonathon Long, what he likes to do sometimes is “free shred” and post the results on Facebook. Once yours truly got an earful of his scorching fretwork, even while he worked his chopper chops, she knew she was in for a fantastic debut album. Long’s self-titled release, produced and promoted by blues maven Samantha Fish on her label, is a melodic ascent to the summit of blues-rock glory. Is such a description too overblown, especially for a first-timer? Pop this CD in your stereo and find out the answer is NO. Not only is Long a guitar hero, but also a talented songwriter. Vocally, he’s one part Tab Benoit, one part SRV, and all tough with a capital T. On ten original tunes and one cover (Kenneth Tudrick’s “The River”), his macho inferno blazes.

In the CD liner notes, Samantha Fish notes, “Jonathon arrived at the studio with a compelling arsenal of songs. Immediately I felt the songs out straight to the soul with a fiery command of the guitar that left everyone’s jaws on the floor. He delivers passionate performances on every song, like a high-spirited Southern preacher laying a fire-and-brimstone wrath on his Sunday morning congregation. [He’s] an all-around star, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to witness and take part in his rise.” His biographical info reveals that such focus and determination are nothing new for Long, who has been a working musician even before he got a learner’s permit to drive. At 29 years young, he excels in what others twice his age and more have tried to master. “Prodigy” would not be too grandiose a descriptor for Jonathon. Neither would “future superstar.”

Along with Long on lead vocals, electric and acoustic guitars are Jullian Civello on drums, Chris Roberts on bass, Samantha Fish on guitar for tracks one, three and seven and vocals for track seven, and Michael Harvey on fiddle for track seven.

The following three songs are the pick of the litter, though there are no “runts” among them.

Track 01: “Bury Me” – In this age of political and social divisiveness, our hero offers medicine for what ails us. “Heaven knows it’s about that time. You have your God, and I have mine. Better stretch our hands to the heavens, stop counting our money, start counting our blessings.” Life is too short for hate, and when life’s gone, “remember me through the words of my song.”

Track 05: “Living the Blues” – “Rent is high and the pay is low. Living in hell with nowhere to go. Middle class is yesterday’s news. You’re either rich or you’re living the blues.” These phrases land, one by one, like punches to the gut. Some people characterize the blues as sad music, but the truth is that life is much sadder. Being happy is no easy task, but being understood is a critical part of it. Harmonious vocals make for a catchy refrain, if a melancholy one.

Track 08: “Pour Another Drink” – Time for a tongue-in-cheek bar lullaby. Our narrator has gone through a conga line of misfortune, and as for the remedy? “Two more shots do me just right.” A smooth mix of jazz and blues that goes down easy, number eight is perfect for slow-dancing.

Jonathon Long is no newbie when it comes to the blues. For a debut artist, he totally “nailed it!”

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 38 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.

 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8 

bob lanza cd imageThe Bob Lanza Blues Band – Kids, Dogs & Krazy Women

Connor Ray Music

11 songs – 42 minutes

Kids, Dogs & Krazy Women is the fifth album release by the New Jersey-based Bob Lanza Blues Band and is a fine, punchy collection of modern blues-rock, superbly recorded by ex-Spin Doctors guitarist, Anthony Krizan, at his Sonic Boom Recording Studio in Raritan, NJ.

The core band comprises Lanza on guitars and vocals, Dave Lockhart on bass and Vin Mott on drums (Mott also contributes some pretty tasty harmonica to various tracks, including “Every Side Of Lonesome” and “Hey Cotton”). They are joined for this album by John Ginty on piano and Hammond B3 and Krizan himself on guitars, vocals, drums and percussion.

Featuring a nice mix of originals and covers (frustratingly, there are no writing credits supplied with the CD or the press kit), the album opens with the superb title track, where Lanza humorously laments the three primary problems in his life, while Krizan lays down some killer slide guitar. Both “Kids, Dogs & Krazy Women” and the second track, the Texas-style shuffle of “Little Mama” have catchy choruses while Mott’s harmonica on the latter track is particularly impressive.

Elsewhere, there is a Magic Sam-esque minor key ballad, “Not The Man I Used To Be”, a muscular updating of Little Frankie’s 1963 hit “Full Time Lover” (perhaps most famously covered by the Fabulous Thunderbirds), a fine cover of the Thunderbirds’ own “Let Me In” where Ginty’s piano excels, and perhaps most surprisingly, a magnificently re-imagined “Walking After Midnight”, which becomes a swinging West Coast blues.

Lanza sings with a full-throated roar that especially suits the rockier tracks, such as the breakneck tribute to James Cotton, “Hey Cotton”. He is also a fine guitarist, laying down a series of powerful solos. He receives first class support from the other musicians, with Lockhart and Mott/Krizan laying down a series of solid grooves. Krizan also engages in some entertaining guitar duels with Lanza, such as on the aforementioned “Hey Cotton.”

Lyrically, Lanza focuses on the trials and tribulations of love, albeit often with his tongue firmly in his cheek, such as on the title track or on the funky “Problems” where he confesses he has “problems with my woman” as well as “problems with my wife”. The Chicago-shuffle-on-steroids of “Hey Baby” nods to various classic blues lyrics as Lanza determines to move to the country and paint his mailbox blue, whilst expressing concern about the packages the mailman may be dropping.

There is a high-energy buzz to most of the music on Kids, Dogs & Krazy Woman, which is nicely moderated by the final track, the instrumental “Raritan River Stomp”, which sees the band pick up acoustic instruments with some more tasty slide guitar from Krizan.

Kids, Dogs & Krazy Women is a relatively short album, clocking in at just over 40 minutes, but there isn’t any filler here. This is a superbly played and produced modern blues-rock album that is very much at the blues end of the blues-rock spectrum. Very nice.

Reviewer Rhys Williams lives in Cambridge, England, where he plays blues guitar when not holding down a day job as a technology lawyer or running around after his children. He is married to an American, and speaks the language fluently, if with an accent.

 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 8 

jw jones cd imageJW Jones – Live

Solid Blues Records

11 songs – 57 minutes

Any new release by JW Jones is cause for celebration. His latest release, his tenth, is a superb live showcase, recorded over two nights at La Basoche – Centre Cultural de Vieux Aylmer in Quebec by Zach Allen. Featuring 11 tracks that Jones has not previously released, Live acts as both an acknowledgment of Jones’ influences (all 11 songs are covers) and a glimpse into possible future directions for the band.

Opening with Robert Cray’s “A Memo (Nothin’ But Love)”, Jones and his talented cohorts swiftly move through the gears as they take on B.B. King’s “Need You So Bad” before laying down a killing version of Ben Harper’s “I Don’t Believe A Word You Say” (originally recorded with Charlie Musselwhite on harp) . Jones and crew take the song in a harder, rockier direction than the original, but the sharp dynamics of the breakdown in the middle of the song show a band utterly in tune with itself.

Both “I Don’t Believe A Word You Say” and Howlin’ Wolf’s “Moaning At Midnight” (which is played at a much faster clip than the original but still lasts nearly 10 minutes, thanks to a magnificently wild tribute to Jimi Hendrix in the breakdown) feature extended guitar solos, with Jones adopting a significantly more overdriven guitar sound than on his previous releases. He is a superb guitar player, happily switching from rock to blues to soul with ease. His extended jump blues solo at the start of B.B. King’s “Early Every Morning” is one of the highlights of the album, while his taut, restrained reading of Jimmy Rogers’ “That’s Alright” is a powerful statement of ill-concealed fury. He also sings beautifully, often throwing in a nod to the mannerisms of the song’s original singer. On “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”, for example, his voice even has hints of Dylan’s nasal whine.

Jones’ band are equally impressive. Comprising Laura Greenberg on bass and vocals, Will Laurin on drums and vocals and Don Cummings on Hammond organ (who contributes a particularly nice solo on “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”), they follow and support their bandleader adroitly, providing that essential underpinning to Jones’ instrumental forays as he drives them through Albert King’s “You’re Going To Need Me”, The 5 Royales’ “Catch That Teardrop” (with great harmonies from Greenberg) and James Hunter’s “Way Down Inside” (curiously credited to “J. Huntsman” on CD, and which acts here as a showcase for Laurin’s powerhouse drumming).

The final track on the album, Deke Dickerson’s “I Might Not Come Home” mashes into a stunning 17-song medley featuring riffs from various classic guitar songs. The CD does list all 17 songs, but it is much more fun struggling to name each song from a single riff or two before it is replaced by another archetypal riff.

Live captures JW Jones in his element: great songs, superb playing and singing, raucous guitar, all dripping with deep soul. One of the best live blues albums released this year.

Reviewer Rhys Williams lives in Cambridge, England, where he plays blues guitar when not holding down a day job as a technology lawyer or running around after his children. He is married to an American, and speaks the language fluently, if with an accent.

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 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8 

rc and the moonpie band cd imageRC and the Moonpie Band – All This


CD: 12 Songs, 37:29 Minutes

Styles: Roots, Americana, Funk, Ensemble Blues

What do the letters “RC” stand for? “Royal Crown (Cola),” “race car,” “remote control,” “radio control,” and “rookie card,” among other things. In the case of North Carolina’s RC and the Moonpie Band’s latest CD, All This, “RC” stands for “rated conventional.” Neither terrible nor terrific, it’s right in the middle of the pack when it comes to the four musical sub-genres listed above. They deserve an A for effort, especially on instrumentation, but sometimes Robert “RC” Christian’s flat vocals don’t do their twelve songs justice (as on “Cheated On Me”). They’ve put a lot of thought into their CD liner notes, explaining the thought process on four covers and eight original tracks. In terms of pure/traditional blues, only a few hit the mark, such as “Older Women.” As stated earlier, they’re an eclectic group, aiming to please more than one fan base.

“Two thirds of our last record, Individually Wrapped, was our interpretation of obscure songs from legends like Rufus Thomas and Jimmy Vaughan,” guitarist/producer Robert Marlowe explains. “With our current record, All This, we wanted to flip the script and try our hand at writing more original Moonpie material.” Their offerings, whether covers or fresh compositions, have been played on Internet and terrestrial radio stations in the US and several foreign lands, including Romania, the Philippines, Wales, and New Zealand.

The Moonpie Band consists of Robert Marlowe on guitar; T Bone Betourney on drums; front man “RC” on vocals; Mike Logiovino on bass, and Russell Pleasants on backing vocals. Special guests include Bruce Katz on piano and Hammond organ; Bob Margolin on guitar for track six; Lorette Christian on vocals; Gary Pope on guitar; Rich Moncure on trombone; Doug Moyers on drums for track five, and Heath Logiovino on drums for track four.

The following original number sounds the most like what baby boomer fans know as the blues.

Track 07: “Older Women” – “Actually has an attention span. Not always staring at her phone. No drama queen for me, no thanks. In that case, I’d rather be alone.” So “RC” opines on the subject of sly number seven. Bruce Katz plays killer organ here, and Mike Logiovino provides a sweetly understated bassline.

Is the latest from RC and the Moonpie Band “really cool?” Check it out and decide!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 38 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.

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 Featured Interview – Ghost Town Blues Band 

ghost town blues band photo 1From the moment Ghost Town Blues Band enters the room, playing “When The Saints Go Marching In” on horns and driving the beat on drums, audiences instantaneously realize they’re in for something special.

Based out of Memphis and described by front man Matt Isbell as a “group of misfits,” they’re truly far more than that. Comprised of relatively young men in blues terms and coming from all walks of life and widely varying musical tastes, they’re an organization that functions as one living, breathing organism. They meld together onstage to produce sounds that touch on everything from straight-ahead blues, Hill Country blues and deep Memphis soul to hip-hop and powerful reinterpretations of Allman Brothers and Beatles classics that would make the originators smile.

Recently named blues band of the year at the Tennessee Music Awards, they apparently have driven a stake into what Isbell as termed tongue-in-cheek as being the Susan Luccis of the blues world.

Like the former star of ABC-TV’s All My Children who was nominated for daytime Emmy Awards almost two dozen times before taking home a trophy for Outstanding Leading Actress in a soap opera, Ghost Town also unintentionally – and undeservedly — made it a habit of being a runner-up. They made to the finals of the International Blues Challenge twice and received multiple Blues Blast Music Awards nominations – three this year alone – but, until now, consistently returned home empty-handed.

All the while, Ghost Town has consistently been oblivious as they’ve delivered wave after wave of heart- and foot-pounding music that leaves audiences exhausted but still asking for more. Their most recent CD, a live set entitled Backstage Pass, climbed to the No. 4 spot on Billboard’s blues album chart.

Although founded by Isbell, who fronts the band using six-string and homemade three-string cigar-box guitars, doubles on harmonica and delivers most of the vocals with a distinctive, whisky-soaked voice, he makes it a point to insist that no one in the group, including himself, is a star and that their success is the result of the partnership they enjoy.

The Memphis native is basically a self-taught musician. “I took a guitar class in college,” he says. “But the instructor was a friend and told me dirty jokes more than anything else. I guess he knew I was already playing out, and didn’t want to change my old habits.”

His earliest musical influences came through the classic rock records he heard because of his older brother, not the sounds that fill the air in the city that served as blues’ first home after moving up from the Delta. He took piano lessons at age 10, but the six-string drew him like a moth to a flame.

“My teacher’s husband had a guitar sittin’ in the corner,” he recalls, “and I just kept starin’ at that thing. Finally, one day, she made the mistake of lettin’ me pull it out. I opened that guitar case — and it was over!

“I had a little three-quarter size acoustic guitar in the house. It had three strings, and the other three tuning pegs were busted off. I kinda tuned that thing to an open chord and played around with it as much as I could after that.”

It’s a technique he still uses today on cigar-box.

Isbell was barely into his teens when the thought of making his life’s work music took root. It came through exposure to Oregon native Todd Snider — a young, blond singer-songwriter not unlike himself – who was starting his career on Beale Street.

ghost town blues band photo 2Snide was later discovered by a member of Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band, worked as an assistant to John Prine and then as Buffett’s opening act before becoming a superstar in the folk/roots/alternative scene.

Matt’s initial encounter with him came a year before the release of Snider’s first major album, the highly acclaimed Songs For The Daily Planet. “He was playin’ in what was a terrible, dive-y bar I wouldn’t play today if I didn’t have to,” Matt recalls. “I was enthralled. He was a blond-headed dude in blue jeans — like me — and with bare feet, and I said: ‘Oh, wow! This could be me!

“All I thought about after that was gettin’ a real guitar. I was still playin’ that little three-string, and I had a harmonica. Todd wore a harmonica on a rack. I got a coat hanger and fashioned a little harmonica holder out of it for myself. I rocked that thing all the time — until I put out my first record.”

Isbell received his first six-string, an acoustic $100 Goya dreadnaught, on his 12th birthday and taught himself how to play every Snider song on Daily Planet. “I wore that record out tryin’ to figure out how to play all the G-C-D, all the simple stuff, and play around with it on harmonica,” he says.

Matt formed his first band, The Blind Venetians, along with current Ghost Town lead guitarist Taylor Orr in high school. The son of a chart-topping ‘60s rocker, Orr has played a major role in Isbell’s life since their first meeting as both a guitarist and songwriting partner. He’s been instrumental in leading Isbell from folk/roots to the other musical traditions they deliver today.

“He came over to audition, and we asked him if he knew the material,” Isbell recalls. “He said ‘no,’ but asked us: ‘Do you guys know ‘Blue Sky’ from the Allman Brothers?’ We said ‘no,’ so he said: ‘Let me teach it to you real quick.’

“He showed us the chords and proceeded to play every single note from the solo perfectly. We were like: ‘You’re in the band!’”

They performed at a school talent show, and the reception they received was overwhelming. As Isbell says today, they fulfilled every teenagers dream, going from social outcasts to some of the most popular kids in their class. They recorded one record when they were 15 and another two years later, but disbanded when everyone went their separate way after graduation.

Orr moved to Colorado, and Isbell enrolled in college. After losing touch for a while, they eventually reconnected and spent more than a decade writing songs together long distance over the phone and internet. While Taylor was out West, Matt spent time in a rock band before a seven-year stint in a cover band, a period in which he pushed himself to learn guitar parts that weren’t in his comfort zone.

“I was learning triads and gettin’ my chops together,” he remembers. “But when my mom passed away, I kinda realized that life’s pretty short and maybe I shouldn’t be wastin’ my time playin’ other people’s music.”

Matt was a student in the University Of Memphis music business program in 2007 when he released and album, Rock Lotto, under his own name as part of a senior project and it into the running for Grammy consideration – not for the original songs it contained, but for the packaging, which included multiple gambling images on the front and a scratch-off format on the back. You’d have to use a coin and scratch the surface to reveal the song lineup as well as a MySpace link through which you could download another bonus track.

And he polished his R&B skills while a member of the Stax Music Academy SNAP! program. Primarily targeted for people much younger than himself, it was designed as an after-school project through which youngsters could learn life skills while developing their musical talents.

Isbell’s invitation came about purely by accident while was working a side job as a car valet for a private event at Memphis’ Pink Palace Museum.

“There were these two black dudes in three-piece suits walkin’ out and talkin’, sayin’: ‘How come it’s so hard to find a good young white guitar player like Steve Cropper to fit into our little program?’” Matt recalls. “I popped up and introduced myself, gave ‘em my card, told ‘em I was a guitar player and asked ‘em what they were talkin’ about.”

ghost town blues band photo 3To make a long story short, they invited him to audition at Lemoynt Owen College the next Saturday. To prepare himself and learn the music, he practiced by playing along with the Stax Gold CD all week and got the gig, becoming the old man of the group at age 21 alongside kids barely into their teens.

“Three weeks later, I was playin’ at the Orpheum Theater,” he says. “We even auditioned for Justin Timberlake’s record label at the time, and everyone went on to do bigger things.”

The bass player, Dywane Thomas Jr., better known now by the name MonoNeon, who was 12 at the time, eventually went on to play with Prince. One of the most important artists in experimental music today, he’s worked with everyone from the Bar-Kays and Ne-Yo to avant garde trendsetter Ghostnote and Corey Henry’s Funk Apostles. And he also occupied the bass spot in Ghost Town for a while.

The seeds for Ghost Town were planted in 2008, shortly after the passing of Isbell’s mother. He’d been working as a solo singer-songwriter, but the blues beckoned. “Everything that I was doing was three chords anyway,” he says. “Very basic. I was just tellin’ stories. And most of my tunes were ‘woe is me’ anyway.”

A couple of other young musicians on Beale caught Isbell’s attention as he formulated plans to put a band together. One was Suavo Jones, a permanent fixture in Ghost Town since the beginning. An extremely energetic trombone player who’s soft-spoken and introspective off-stage, he consistently drew and held crowds as he busked on the street. Another was Jeremy Powell, a keyboard player who frequently played for tips in Handy Park with a very distinct sound on the organ. He’s gone on to work with Eddie Palmieri, Southern Avenue, Acme Jazz Garage, Ghetto Love Sugar and others.

“We were the young cats on Beale,” Matt says.

They started jamming, filled out their lineup and never stopped. Both the band’s eventual name and their now trademark second-line entrance came about after their initial inability to draw a crowd. “Nobody was in the club half the time when we’d play,” he remembers. “We’d say: ‘It’s a ghost town in here. We must be the Ghost Town Blues Band.’

“We were always tryin’ to find a way to get more people into the club, and all of us besides Suavo played horn on the side. One day we decided: Let’s get on the street and do something. We took out our horns and drums and played as we walked down Beale. That’s how our second-line was born.”

Although the band delivers multiple musical stylings, don’t expect much more second-line work when they do take the stage. As Isbell explains: “I played a little trombone in high school, but only enough to annoy the neighbors and my parents.

“We’re definitely a hodgepodge of different backgrounds, and most of us have all been primarily sidemen. That’s why it isn’t Matt Isbell And Ghost Town Blues Band. We all bring something fresh and different to the table. Suavo has the hip-hop background. I come from the folk/singer-songwriter background. Taylor brings that Southern rock and jam band kinda thing to it.”

After spending time in Littleton, Fort Collins and Denver, Colo., where he worked in multiple bands, Orr returned to Memphis to assume Ghost Town guitar duties about two years ago, finally giving in to requests that Isbell had been making for more than a decade.

“I learned how to play guitar standing beside him,” Matt says. “Obviously, he moved away and worked real hard at it, and I’m more of a jack-of-all-trades. I joke about that on stage every night. We trade licks and I always mention that I should have taken better notes.”

But the band’s far more than this trio. The other three current members also impart their own imprint on the overall sound.

ghost town blues band photo 4With his bushy beard and laid-back appearance, bass player Matt Karner’s physical appearance might trick some folks into thinking he just emerged from the backwoods. In reality, he’s a native of northern New Jersey who grew up only a few miles from Midtown Manhattan. He’s deeply rooted in the jazz tradition.

“He’s our midnight driver,” Isbell says. “He likes to get behind the wheel for our long overnight hauls. He listens to jazz when he’s driving, exposing all of us to sounds we might not have heard before.”

The two newest members of the group – drummer Andrew McNeill and keyboard player Cedric Taylor – add even more variety.

The youngest member at 24, McNeill is an old soul, Isbell says. “If you listen to him, you’d never believe he’s as young as he is. We went into the studio last week to cut our next record, and he sounded fantastic, probably the most solid of all of us.”

Lean and leaning slightly to his left behind the kit, he plays in a style reminiscent of a ‘60s jazz percussionist. Once again, however, looks are deceiving. “He brings that Stax – Al Jackson vibe,” Matt says. “And he’s wa-a-ay into Prince, too, so he brings that funk to us, too.”

And like most of the keyboard players who’ve preceded him, Taylor comes from a strong church background, which comes through loud and strong as he attacks the keys on his B3. A stylish dresser, which definitely sets him apart from his bandmates, he plays in a powerful, two-fisted approach, and his gospel training comes through loud and clear.

“Most of us didn’t feel at home in a lot of the bands we were playin’ in,” Isbell says. “I definitely feel like this band was born in the wrong generation. We kinda all found each other on Beale, which was a nice incubator for us to develop our sound.

“When we started this thing in 2009, it definitely was a rock-influenced blues band, playing everything from the Creedence Clearwater version of Screaming Jay Hawkins’ ‘I Put A Spell On You’ to a lot of original material, too. Our first album, Dust The Dust, had only five covers on it.”

Even though Orr was still in Colorado, doing his own thing, his influence was still being felt back home in Memphis. “By the time we got to our third record, Hard Row To Hoe, which came out in 2014, we opened it with one of Taylor’s originals, Another Lover,” Isbell says. “He sent it to me in one form, and I just gave it a more Memphis vibe.

“That’s the case with most of the tunes we write together. He brings me great songs all the time. And he’s humble enough to let me be a good editor. Most people are good at seein’ something and figuring out a way to make it better. But not a lot of people out there have the restraint to sit back and let somebody else manipulate it to be what it will finally be. Taylor’s the exception.”

That CD did well, providing traction for Ghost Town to book bigger and better gigs. And it didn’t hurt that the band earned runner-up honors in the International Blues Challenge that year, too. But like most everything else in the band’s history, that came after a struggle, too.

They tried and failed three times to be the Memphis Blues Society IBC representative, finishing third once and second twice in 2010, 2011 and 2012 competitions. But Isbell has no hard feelings. “We weren’t the established act — just the new guys,” he says. “We didn’t feel like we were owed anything. We just could never quite break through.”

ghost town blues band photo 5Things started changing for the better when Ghost Town played the 2012 Crossroads Blues & Heritage Festival in Rosedale, Miss., a small town along the river about an hour to the south. It was sponsored by Rosedale’s Crossroads Blues Society, which was run by Will Pierce.

“Will kinda called the festival his IBC competition,” Isbell recalls. “I guess we were the crowd favorite, and he invited us to represent them in the 2013 IBCs.”

Ghost Town made it to the finals that year, finishing as a runner-up to Floridian Selwyn Birchwood, and finally beat out the competition to represent the Memphis society in 2014. Even though they’d been using their second-line entrance at clubs, they made their IBC debut with it when they made it to the finals once again.

But try as they might, however, they simply couldn’t get past Mr. Sipp, finishing as the bridesmaids as he walked away with the trophy. “Mr. Sipp definitely deserved to win,” Matt says. “He had much more of a blues package than we did.”

And although it would have been nice to capture top honors, like most competitors, Ghost Town knew that the IBCs are far more than a one-shot deal. They’re just as valuable for exposure, networking and future gigs the competition provides. After all, some of the biggest names in the business and several rising stars — including Susan Tedeschi, Rob Blaine, French harmonica champion Nico Wayne Toussaint, Betty Fox, Shakura S’Aida and Laurie Morvan, among others – have failed in the finals to win over the judges.

With as many as 250 bands traveling to Memphis for the event annually, the IBCs create a family atmosphere for most participants, and Matt has been helping competitors out in recent years by running what’s basically a courtesy jitney service to get them to and from the airport.

“I noticed how a lot of these guys were complaining about how difficult it was getting their band and their instruments into a cab,” Isbell says. “They were having to split up and use separate cabs to get everything to their hotel from the airport, and spending an arm and a leg in order to do it.”

It was a real hardship because most are traveling on a shoestring budget at best, often relying on fundraisers and benefits back home to make the trip. A few years ago, Matt started taking advance reservations for pickups, charging a modest $5 a member to haul them and their equipment to their hotel. The service became an overnight success.

Although there have been some hiccups along the way — with delayed flights and schedule changes, it’s become so popular that, in 2018, he and his cohorts needed three vans and trailers to get the job done, and he’s already been fielding calls since before Thanksgiving for the competition that occurs in January.

And more often than not, passengers won’t realize they’re being transported by a fellow musician who’s lived the same experience they’re going through. “It’s my small way of helping the musicians and their blues family out,” Isbell says. “We don’t discriminate. I’ve met a lot of folks and gotten a lot of gigs doin’ it. It’s a lot of fun.

“Memphis has been good to me. I’m lucky to have been born here, and I feel like an ambassador. To be a part of the blues world, it’s a blessing for me to be able to share some of the positivity that’s been shared with me.”

ghost town blues band photo 6In the years since they last entered the IBCs, Ghost Town has built bigger and bigger audiences, served for a tour as the opening act for Steve Miller, played major festivals across the U.S. and booked 12 tours overseas in 2017 and 2018 alone.

Off stage, Isbell has also become a prolific and popular cigar-box guitar maker. As founder of Memphis Cigar Box Company, he’s produced more than 450 instruments since 2010, fashioning them out of everything from antique boxes to his grandmother’s old silverware chest and even an old bedpan, an instrument he’s dubbed the “shitar” or “crap-a-caster” because it plays just like it sounds. He’s also made a lap steel guitar out of a railroad tie, cutting it down with a chainsaw, and is currently building another out of an Erector set.

“I pride myself as being a musician who builds guitars,” he says. Like the first guitar he ever played, they’re all constructed with three strings. “Subconsciously, I think it came from that,” Matt says, noting that most other builders use four strings.

His instruments have found their way into the hands of pros and amateurs alike, and his clientele has included Eric Schrenkman of The Spin Doctors, Cyndi Lauper, Michael Leonhart of Steely Dan and Joe Bonamassa, among others. The winner of the solo/duo competition at the IBCs now receives one as part of his prize package.

All of the guitars are fretless and designed to play using a slide, which created a side product. At last count, he makes about 200 slides a month, and are available at the Stax Museum and at Memphis Music Records And Tapes on Beale. Everything is manufactured in Matt’s home garage.

Ghost Town’s latest, live album was a treasure for fans of the Allmans and jam bands, but Isbell says the next one, which is currently under production, will return the group to its roots. “It’s going to be a lot like our second record, which was very roots-oriented,” he says. “There are definitely some straightforward blues songs on there, but we’ve got the whole Memphis vibe, and there are a lot of rules to be broken yet.

“It’ll still have a lot of horns, a lot of B3, a lot of twin guitar parts – and as good of songwriting as me and Taylor can come up with, but not as many tongue-in-cheek songs. We’ve done a lot of humorous songs in the past. But I’ve gone through a lot in the past few years. I lost my dad to Parkinson’s, and my mom suddenly to a stroke. My views on life and my songwriting have changed a little bit as a result.”

One thing remains constant, though: Isbell’s gratitude for the reception he and his band of merrymakers have received from the blues community.

“I’m proud to be a part of the blues scene and that we’re allowed to give our interpretation of the blues and to be an on ramp for the younger generation to become interested in the music,” he says. “I don’t think the blues has to be sad and slow. It can tell many different stories and speak to many different people in many different ways.”

Check out Matt and the band at Or visit if you want to learn more about his three-strings and slides.

Interviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.

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The Washington Blues Society – Seattle, WA

The Washington Blues Society presents The Snohomish Blues Invasion. The ninth annual one-day pub crawl styled mini-fest in Six venues on First Street in Historic Downtown Snohomish will be held Sunday, November 18th from 2 pm to 10 pm. All the proceeds go to the IBC Fund.

The star-studded list of performers who are volunteering their time and talents for the event includes The IBC entrants, Sammy Eubanks, and the Working Class, Sheri Roberts-Greimes and youth showcase duo of Nick Mardon and Miranda Kitchpanich along with; Jim McLaughlin and Kevin Sutton, Stacy Jones Band, Michele D’Amour and the Love Dealers, Jill Newman and Margret Wilder, Andy “Badd Dog” Koch, Cory Vincent, Altai, Duke and Mojo Nation, Donna Dupras, Jim Brunner, The RooTsters, Willie & the Whips, Eric Rice, Town Hall Brawl, Mule Kick, Chicken Hawk, Hot Mess, Blood Fire and Rainwater, Reji Marc , Skinny Blue, Dennis Griffiths, Lori Hardman and many more. Information and set times at

The North Central Florida Blues Society celebrates the birthday of Dr. Tim Fik on December 9 from 6-10 pm at the High Dive (210 SW 2nd Ave) in Gainesville, FL and as a perfect fit to Fik’s stature, it’s a star-studded event featuring Blues virtuosos with a rock edge.

The triple-headliner event stars The Danielle Nicole Band, Anthony Gomes, and the Bridget Kelly Band. Special guests include the Mark Telesca Band and star New York drummer Sonny Rock. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $10 for members of any Blues society in Florida.

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The Charlotte Blues Society – Charlotte, NC

The Charlotte Blues Society is excited to announce its Blues Christmas Bash featuring Albert Castiglia on Sunday, December 2nd! This show only, tickets are $5 at the door for members with valid cards, and $10 for non-members. Doors at 7:00, show 8:00 – 10:00.

Advance tickets are available for $10 via PayPal. Refer to the website for information about ordering.

We continue to collect non-perishable food and household items for Loaves and Fishes. 1 can? I can!

The Sacramento Blues Society – Sacramento, CA

The Sacramento Blues Society Annual Membership Party, featuring the amazing SUGARAY RAYFORD, will be held on Saturday, December 1st at Harlow’s Nightclub & Restaurant, 2708 J Street, Sacramento. Doors open at 1:00 pm, show from 2:00 – 5:00 pm. Free for active SBS members (bring your membership card) and $25 for non-members (but this $25 also buys you a one year membership into one of the oldest Blues Societies in the Country – the Sacramento Blues Society!

This will be the SBS party of the year and a show you won’t want to miss! For ticket purchasing information: and for Sacramento Blues Society

The Illinois Central Blues Club – Springfield, IL

The Illinois Central Blues Club has announced the line-up of talent for Blue Monday live performances held every Monday night at e Alamo, 115 North Fifth, Springfield, IL from 8:00pm to midnight. Additional information on any performer listed below is available upon request.

Nov 28 – Brother Jefferson Trio, Dec 3 – David Lumsden & Friends, Dec 10 – Mary Jo Curry, Dec 12 – Joe Asselin & the Moonlight Ramblers, Dec 17 – Studebaker John, Dec 26 – The Baaad Boyz For more information visit

Friends of the Blues – Kankakee, IL

Shows start at 7 pm, and are open to the public. Food and Beverages available at all Friends of the Blues shows. Thur, Nov 29 – Reverend Raven & CSAB, Kankakee Valley Boat Club. More Info at:

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