David Jacobs-Strain Bio

David Jacobs-Strain

David Jacobs-Strain

Supporting Geneseo

By Emily J Ramey

Written for David Jacobs-Strain

Expounding upon classic themes of broken hearts, winding roads, and flashbacks of Oregon summers, David’s newest work, Geneseo, is a collection of contemporary songs in keeping with longstanding folk traditions of Robert Johnson and Woody Guthrie. “I try to make art that you can dance to,” says David, “but I love that darker place in my mind where Skip James, Nick Drake, and maybe Elliot Smith blur together.”

The album plays with traditional refrains and modern execution, balancing silvery slide guitar with warm bass and resonant drums. Imperfect vocals, conviction saturating every note, harken back to an age that has provided much of David’s inspiration, of one-take recordings, singing for supper, and the hard-won American dream that raw talent will endure. “I’m fascinated by the way that rural blues inscribes movement and transience,” the young songwriter explains. “There’s a crossroads where a thing can be both enchanting and dangerous.”

Those familiar with David’s previous studio work, Stuck on the Way Back, Ocean or a Teardrop, Liars Day, Terraplane Angel, or his live follow-up, Live from the Left Coast, will recognize his characteristic casual harmonies, incandescent lyrical motifs, and complex guitar work, but there’s something new and exciting in this compilation, perhaps a result of the overwhelming fan support he received by funding the album with Kickstarter. “It feels great to have people stand up and say that it means something to them.”

29-year-old David nurtured his musical abilities early while growing up in small-town Oregon: “I got my first guitar for $10 at a garage sale when I was nine years old.” Something struck with a chord with David, who began playing street corners and farmers’ markets in middle school without the burden of formal musical training. “I don’t read tablature; I don’t read music. I play totally by ear.” He found inspiration among his pioneer blues heroes as well as current acts like Lucinda Williams and Taj Mahal, all the while developing his own class of cool, undulating refrains.

The Stanford dropout was playing festivals across the country, including the prestigious Newport Folk Festival, by the time he was nineteen and has been featured at a dozen since, including Merlefest, Telluride Blues Festival, Philadelphia Folk Festival, and Seattle’s Bumbershoot. He’s taught at Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch, and at fifteen years old was the youngest faculty member ever at Centrum’s Blues and Heritage workshop.

On the road, he’s shared the stage with champions of the folk, blues, and jazz communities, musicians like Lucinda Williams, Boz Scaggs, Etta James, The Doobie Brothers, George Thorogood, Robert Earle Keen, Todd Snider, Taj Mahal, Janis Ian, Tommy Emmanuel, Bob Weir, T-Bone Burnett, and Del McCoury. But Geneseo, more than any of his previous recordings, feels like a confident step into his own, fleshing out a distinctively contemporary niche among sounds and influences of a bygone era.

Geneseo began as an experiment. Camped out in a converted 19th century church, Strain recorded guitar and vocals on a laptop, rarely using more than one microphone. “It was winter in rural upstate New York. We had very little daylight but endless old instruments to try.” A road trip to Los Angeles brought in drummer Scott Seiver (Pete Yorn, Flight of the Conchords), and bassist Jon Flaughers (Ryan Adams) and David Immergluck (Counting Crows) on pedal steel as well, after a chance meeting in a Hollywood bar.

“All the songs were written, but I didn’t have a budget or a plan,” David explains. “I couldn’t stand waiting, so we just started recording ad hoc.” Caitlin Carey of Whiskey Town sent harmonies and fiddle tracks by email, Band of Horses’ bassist Bill Reynolds Dropboxed a track for the impressionist blues closer “Josephine,” and long-time collaborator Bob Beach recorded harmonica solos in Philadelphia. By spring, the record was an overwhelming collage of sounds and parts. To pare the record back down to its organic core, David enlisted Beau Sorenson (Death Cab for Cutie) and Billy Barnett (Frank Black, Cherry Popping Daddies): “Everything that would fit on twenty-three tracks was moved to analog tape, then we turned off the computer screen and mixed as if it were 1953.”

Despite his youth, David Jacobs-Strain is cultivating, without hesitation or pretension, a presence among the founding greats of our time. “Music is the only job I’ve ever had; I have no back up plan,” he declares. “I’m going to put everything I have into this… or I’m going to try.”

David’s new release will be available June 25, 2013. For more information about David and Geneseo, go to http://www.davidjacobs-strain.com.

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Marie Hines Bio

Photo by Melissa Madison Fuller

Marie Hines

Supporting The Tide and the Sea

By Emily J Ramey

Written for Marie Hines

Marie Hines is a creator. She cooks dinner, she bakes cupcakes, she’s an avid DIY-er, and true to her Southern charm, she’s not afraid to get down in the dirt if it means cultivating something colorful and fragrant. Drawing inspiration from nature, The Tide and the Sea boasts music that mimics the fine lightness of a summer wind and the rolling current of a cool autumn stream. By broadening her scope and expanding her thematic obsessions, Marie has fallen right into place between Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles, an artist as vibrant and smart as she is talented.

Marie nurtured her musical abilities early while growing up in small-town South Carolina: “I started taking classical piano when I was about six. Music was kind of something I developed on my own. I started writing at the age of twelve.” And something struck with a chord with Marie, who moved to Nashville in 2005. “I came to ‘Music City’ to surround myself with people that were better than me. I knew I needed that constant challenge in order to become a greater musician.” Marie found inspiration among fellow songwriters as well as larger acts like Norah Jones and Coldplay, all the while developing her own class of bright, satiny melodies.

Those familiar with Marie’s debut, Worth the Fight, or her follow-up EPs, The Living Room Sessions and HeartCrash, will recognize her characteristic feminine grace, billowing piano refrains, and incandescent strings, but there’s something new and exciting in this collection of love songs. On The Tide and the Sea, Marie’s brush strokes are broader, more confident. Like a bright-eyed bride lifting her gauzy veil for the first time, letting the sun dazzle her and the wind brush her skin, the young singer/songwriter is stepping out and making strides.

“The title comes from the idea of love as a push-and-pull; it’s a tug-of-war type thing; it’s a dance. The tide rises and falls back into the sea, but it always falls back into the sea. Love is not easy, but when you’ve found that one right person, it is constant,” says Marie. “I guess that is maybe how I experience love. It’s comforting and protective, and these songs have that theme in common.”

The Tide and the Sea begins briskly, a crisp breeze fluttering through spring grass, playful and steady. “My Love Will Never Fail You,” the expansive, glittering single, makes confident declarations on the origins of love with lyrics like, “I don’t believe in chance. I think it’s the choice we make, and I choose you for the rest of my days,” its melody expanding into broad, undulating layers of a soaring orchestral spectrum. “In My Arms,” co-written with fellow Nashville songwriter Justin Halpin, is a richly textured, sanguine tune with a spirited rhythm that reminds Marie, “Yes, I’ve had my heart broken, but it’s all washed away when you have this one person.”

The golden, ebullient “Always Been You,” another Justin Halpin co-write, boasts the title lyric – “You be the tide; I’ll be the sea. The rise or fall brings you home to me, brings you home to me. It’s always been you, love.” – and acts as the magnetic, whimsical cornerstone of Marie’s rosy ballads. “Forever Falling for You,” co-written with Justin Tam of Nashville folk band Humming House, is a glowing, ethereal track with lyrics warm and hopeful: “We’ll build a house someday; we’ll build a home in the meantime.” And the lilting, dramatic “Forever Mine,” co-written with Justin Halpin and featuring background vocals by Marie’s new fiancé Ben Ringel of Nashville blues band The Delta Saints, swells and diminishes in arresting, elegant strokes, closing the album with an exultant, richly resonant ballad of halcyon love, repeating the chorus: “Oh my love, my life, always you and I, steady as we rise; be forever mine.”

Marie’s music has seen commercial and critical success with a feature in WalMart’s Valentine’s Day in-store promotional campaign in 2010 and 2011 and the top prizes in the Intel Superstars Competition, the Intel Video Superstars Competition, and the Avon Songwriting Competition. Following the release of Worth the Fight, Marie embarked on a national tour, playing venues like LA’s famous Hotel Café, Nashville’s Bluebird Café, New York’s The Living Room, and cafés, house concerts, and coffeeshops all along the way. In 2012, she was invited to play Toronto’s NXNE Festival.

Marie’s songs have provided background music for hundreds of wedding videos; MTV, iTunes, Hallmark, Delta Airlines, Spotify, and Forever 21 have showcased tracks in various capacities; and the music video for “Perfect Kiss” was featured on CMT Pure.

The Delta Saints Bio

Supporting Death Letter Jubilee

By Emily J Ramey

Written for The Delta Saints

Photo by Melissa Madison Fuller

The Delta Saints

The Delta Saints are not what they say they are. Delta? Absolutely. But saints? One might call them “cautionary tales” long before the term “saints” ever came to mind; however, there is something devout about their bayou rock, a dirty, distinct sound they’ve zealously refined on their debut full-length, Death Letter Jubilee. Alternating between raucous melodies and slow-burning odes to the devil in his many forms, Ben Ringel (vocals/dobro), Dylan Fitch (guitar), David Supica (bass), and Ben Azzi (drums) explore themes of difficult love, the wanderer’s high road, and the moral low road using their unconscious fascination with the classical elements – earth, air, fire, and water – as a natural vehicle for their briny narratives.

With Death Letter Jubilee, The Delta Saints are blooming into life not as a pretty flower might, but perhaps a mushroom explosion from an atomic bomb or a feral thunderhead. After two self-released and well received EPs, Pray On and A Bird Called Angola, fans demanded a full length and happily burst through the band’s Kickstarter goal to get it. “That is a feeling like no other,” Ben Ringel claims. “It’s awesome and also humbling. And it’s good pressure on us to succeed. It’s the kind of pressure we were able to harness and strive off of.”

The members of The Delta Saints each moved to Nashville for college in 2007. They first found common ground as old-world-loving, good-bourbon-swilling musicians and began playing together around town before they had any plans to record. As the searing harmonica and howling vocals of their live show began garnering notoriety in a city known well for its indifference to anything less than worthwhile, The Saints rode their roots rock wave right into the studio.

On the heels of 2010’s A Bird Called Angola, the band toured tirelessly, playing more than 150 shows a year, including a slot at Arkansas’ Wakarusa Festival and two summers headlining in Europe during which they performed on the long-running, renowned German TV show Rockpalast. Road tested and weather worn, The Delta Saints have seen wholly organic growth, working diligently in the name of a roots revival alongside fellow up and comers Alabama Shakes and Gary Clark Jr., becoming The Black Keys of a bygone era, all the while harnessing the brackish delta current into something gripping and bold.

“Liar” opens Death Letter Jubilee with a swaggering bass line and a blazing guitar riff, the “Come on!” refrain in the chorus echoing like a command, beckoning listeners to settle in for the long haul. “’Chicago’ is just written about the first time I was ever in Chicago,” Ringel explains. “We were there for 18 hours, and there was a blizzard, so it was snow and wind and bitter cold. Right before bed, I looked out this big third story window, and all I could see was amber light from the streetlights and snow, and for some reason that image just stuck.” The song itself generates a heat fit to ward off that blizzard weather, featuring a rare but incendiary brass section and an immovable beat that marks the tune as an early highlight.

“Death Letter Jubilee” is by far the most magnetic track on the album. There’s something eerie about its cacophonous Orleans-inspired chorus, the warm buzz of harmonica, the tinny trumpet whine, and the way one can’t help but be swept away by the utterly irreverent revelry. “I love songs where sonically you get one emotion from it, and then you look at the lyrics and it’s not at all what you expected,” Ringel says of the song’s musical inspiration. “And everybody has certain emotions that they’re not proud of. The idea that you can be glad about somebody’s ultimate demise… it’s such a negative thing, but everybody feels something a little like that.”

“Jezebel” melts down into a sweltering lo-fi blues number, its minimal instrumentation muddled and viscous as though the song was written on an old front porch when it was just too damn hot to do anything but sing. And like water thrown over flames, the crackling and steaming “Out to Sea” cools the album with its haunting refrain: “Oh, oh, river run, straight out from the hurt that seems to pour from me, and oh, oh, river speak, just haulin’ ass down the Calabash, just headed out to sea.”

“It was a new direction for us on a lot of different fronts,” Ringel admits of the tune. “It’s quiet and it’s sweet and it’s sad. It explores the idea of that cheesy, sappy movie line, ‘I can’t live without you,’ but this is more like, if you’re going to say it, what does that really mean?”

“Sing to Me” starts out sluggishly, forlornly, a rusted locomotive gathering speed with lyrics like, “I come to you now with blood on my hands, the law on my tail, and my conscience be damned, my sweet little babe, my sweet honeybee,” before running off the rails completely, harmonica flashing, drums galloping. And “River,” a second listen gem, is a brief interlude deep into the album in which an ethereal female gospel choir seems to sway and billow in the breeze on balmy Sunday afternoon.

“The main thing we wanted for Death Letter Jubilee was for it to have movement,” Ringel states. “We wanted people to listen and have an emotional journey similar to the one we had while making it.” That journey has left them energized and confident about the future, while still enjoying each stop along the road: “We want to grow, and maybe even grow faster, but we understand that it’s all in due time. We want to fully realize the weight of our experiences, and be able to savor them too.”

The Delta Saints’ new album will be available January 2013. For more information about The Saints and Death Letter Jubilee, go to http://www.thedeltasaints.com.

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Warren Brothers Article

Warren Brothers

“The Search for the Perfect Song”

By Emily J Ramey

Written for BMI: MusicWorld

Brett and Brad Warren always write their songs together, and as the Nashville songwriting duo The Warren Brothers, their industrious pens have been working for the likes of Martina McBride, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and Dierks Bentley, among an impressive, steady growing list of others.

“Because we’re brothers, we have a built-in chemistry,” Brett explains. “We’re also brutally honest with each other. It can be refreshing and also taxing to write with us, but it will not be boring.”

The Brothers’ writing process seems about as diverse as their list of co-writers themselves: “We might go have lunch with Martina, and something in conversation will hit us, and we’ll write a song about that. Or Tim will call me up with an idea, and I’ll head over to his house, and we’ll write it. Or we’ll just start messing around on a guitar and try to think of stuff. There’s really no set way.”

Despite the Brothers current savvy, they worked hard to hit their stride. Early in their now 15-year career, Brad and Brett performed as artists, releasing three albums in six years, and served as judges on CMT’s Nashville Star for a time. Since then, they’ve found their niche as wholly devoted songwriters and have hurled themselves into the arena without hesitation.

“As regular artists, we were way too diverse,” Brett clarifies. “As songwriters, [that diversity] has been a blessing. We have a song on Hinder’s record and Toby Keith’s, we have four songs on Tim McGraw’s new album, and we’re writing with Orianthi this week. We just had a song cut by Lynyrd Skynyrd even, so we’re all over the map, and it is so much fun. We’ve written with Chris Daughtry and Ne-yo and people that are so different, it’s not even funny.”

The Warren Brothers’ lively schedule is due in part to their high demand as great writers but also probably as much to their enthusiasm and passion for finding the perfect song. They write with purpose and zeal for the music above all else.

“The best moments in my career have been the ones where I realized we were writing not for the money, not for an award; it was all about the song.”

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Marie Hines Bio

Supporting HeartCrash

By Emily J Ramey

Written for Marie Hines

Marie Hines

Marie Hines is a creator. She cooks dinner, she bakes cupcakes, she’s an avid DIY-er, and true to her Southern charm, she’s not afraid to get down in the dirt if it means cultivating something colorful and fragrant. Drawing inspiration from nature, HeartCrash boasts music that mimics the fine lightness of a summer breeze and the rolling current of a cool autumn stream. By broadening her scope and expanding her thematic obsessions, Marie has fallen right into place between Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles, an artist as spirited and smart as she is talented.

Those familiar with Marie’s debut, Worth the Fight, or her live follow-up EP, The Living Room Sessions, will recognize her characteristic feminine grace, billowing piano melodies, and incandescent strings, but there’s something new and exciting in this collection of songs. On HeartCrash, Marie’s brush strokes are broader, more confident. Like a bright-eyed bride lifting her gauzy veil for the first time, letting the sun dazzle her and the wind brush her skin, the young Nashville singer/songwriter is stepping out and making strides. “With HeartCrash, I wanted to do something that wasn’t safe. I wanted genuine and natural and raw. These songs embody where I am now, I think.”

“Hammer,” written from the perspective of a character in a book, opens the album with the leaden lines, “You never think your lover’s words could kill you, and you can’t foresee the blow that is your last,” and continues to unfold into an rolling instrumental landscape that explores the windswept valleys of slighted love. The unshakable title track was a new experience for Marie; “it didn’t come out of love or lack of love; it came out of anger,” she claims. A song about “a collision of two souls, the realization of clashing opinions and irreconcilable differences,” “HeartCrash” stomps out a driving beat, sullying forth with words like “I won’t stay, stay around for you to take, take me down, down, down.”

“Mending” is far and away the most complex song on HeartCrash, piano rivulets spilling into swirling ocean depths, dissonant strings surging and eddying into a roaring cascade. “The song has a steady 4/4 rhythm, then a 3/4 rhythm enters in the bridge. The different rhythms layer together perfectly,” Marie reveals, “and to me, it feels like two people falling in love.” The single “Perfect Kiss” is a playful acoustic refrain, silvery and gleaming in its idyllic innocence. “It’s a very personal song,” she says. “It’s a snapshot of the moment I realized I was blissfully happy in my relationship, and that I had found the person I want to be with for the rest of my life.” And “Poison in the Well” is a potent, pleading struggle to let go of the past, an emotion that elicits the strongest vocals on the record.

Marie’s debut album saw critical success with a feature in WalMart’s Valentine’s Day in-store promotional campaign in 2010 and 2011 and the top prize in both the Intel Superstars Competition and the Avon Songwriting Competition. Following the release of Worth the Fight, Marie embarked on a national tour, playing venues like LA’s famous Hotel Café on the West Coast, Nashville’s Bluebird Café, New York’s The Living Room on the East Coast, and cafés, house concerts, and coffeeshops all along the way.

More recently, Marie’s songs have provided background music for dozens of wedding videos, iTunes, Hallmark, Delta Airlines, Spotify, and Forever 21 have showcased tracks in various capacities, and the “Perfect Kiss” music video is in regular rotation on CMT Pure.

Marie Hines’ new release is available on February 28, 2012. For more information about Marie and HeartCrash, go to http://www.mariehines.com.

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Angie Aparo Article

Angie Aparo

“The Anti-Musician”

By Emily J Ramey

Written for BMI: MusicWorld

Angie Aparo has made a name for himself writing key songs for some heavy hitters in the music world. His career, burgeoning from penning hits like “Cry” and “Free Man” for Faith Hill and Tim McGraw respectively, continues to flourish with a cut on Miley Cyrus’ 2010 record and two tracks on McGraw’s January 2012 release.

But writing for others seems to come easily to Aparo: “When I’m writing for someone else, it’s like writing a play. I know the characters.”

These days, he’s challenging himself and taking time to write autobiographically. The solo album he’s currently working on will be his first in six years, and it’s about time by the sound of it.

“Writing for myself is a religion, it’s a therapy; it’s all these things wrapped in one, and then, oh yeah, there are the songs,” Angie quips. “For me, the songs are a just by-product of sitting with yourself for a while.”

And Aparo takes that alone time very seriously. Indeed, it is the only successful way he’s found to write his songs.

“When I’m writing my own record, I have to be so alone,” he says. “I sequester myself. It takes time to figure out what I’m trying to say and then how to say it.”

As Angie takes to the recording studio, he’s not tying himself to any one idea. In fact, he’s blowing the doors off anything remotely conventional and working toward music that is “playful” and “unorthodox” instead.

“I want to make anti-music, but I don’t know what that means yet. I mean, what is music? I think we’ve limited it. This record’s going to be interesting,” Aparo reveals. “I’m sampling sounds, noises; I want to make a noise orchestra, you know, life happening. I think it’s going to be a real joyful record.”

Beyond all else, Aparo’s desires lie among the satisfaction derived from making something new and above all, musical.

“It just doesn’t matter the medium; I’ll do anything to make music. I’m on this journey now of what can I turn into an instrument.” Angie’s journey continues on the road this summer, following the release of his eighth record, expected late this spring.

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Merry Ellen Kirk Bio

Supporting Firefly Garden

By Emily J Ramey

Written for Merry Ellen Kirk

Merry Ellen Kirk

Merry Ellen Kirk is a poet. Perhaps “songwriter” is a more commonly used term, but it’s also too commonplace for Merry Ellen’s glittering narratives, songs that spring up wildly from her subconscious and bloom into vibrant, lilting melodies. Her sparkling piano refrains sweep and spill into fresh, sweet rivulets of notes; her lyrics weave bright, halcyon tales of dream sequences, the light and dark polarities of the human experience, and beauty in its many forms. “I write about light and dark a lot… good and evil, dreams and reality, the darker and lighter parts of the human soul,” she explains.

Despite the undeniable tension in her thematic obsessions, Merry Ellen Kirk explores her dichotomies with grace. She writes songs with the cool effortlessness of youth, sings with the jaunty simplicity and breezy flair of a practiced performer, and plays with fleet fingers and subtle polish. In cultivating her own sound, Merry Ellen has employed a few key elements from her predecessors: the classical prowess of Tori Amos, the natural poise of Sarah McLachlan, the quiet pensiveness of A Fine Frenzy, and the bold whimsy of Regina Spektor.

Growing up a missionaries’ daughter in Mongolia has had its effect on Merry Ellen’s music, creating a refreshingly broad perspective from so young a person. “I think it mostly comes out in my approach to life. I feel like more of my songs are about the world and making the world a better place. My music is about seeing the world and being better for it.”

Of her unconventional childhood musical inclinations Merry Ellen reveals, “In Mongolia, they don’t have pianos, but I knew it was always something that I wanted to do – play piano. So when we moved back, I started taking lessons.” They were the tiny seeds of something greater, a glowing catalyst dawning on Merry Ellen’s path. “It was definitely a huge risk to just put myself out there and start doing this full time when I was seventeen. I had only written a couple of songs, but I knew that it was what I wanted to do.”

A true Nashville singer/songwriter, Merry Ellen works best under pressure, dividing her artistic talents among multiple projects – like serving as half of burgeoning folk duo The Shakespeares and developing a pop venture with fellow songwriter Rachel Pearl – all the while tending her own flowering repertoire. “I’m inspired by other artists, and sometimes things in nature, too, because God’s the artist there. I write songs from those moments.”

On her sophomore album, Firefly Garden, 21-year-old Merry Ellen spins a gossamer web of silvery tunes that glints and glistens with morning dew and lightly stroked piano keys. “Every week for ten weeks I recorded a song, and it was really therapeutic for me. It was freeing,” she says. “I think that’s what the album is about: all this crazy stuff is happening around you, but it’s important to find your inspiration and your beautiful place in life.”

The record, produced by Shakespeares counterpart Aaron Krause, is an enchanted glimpse into Merry Ellen’s sun-dappled mind, a veritable Eden of lush emerald canopies and richly tinted florets in which her music becomes the soundtrack to a verdant dream like delicate chimes floating on the billows of perfumed zephyrs. Among the high points of Firefly Garden lie the colorful, saccharine lyrics of “Candy,” which are a cleverly draped disguise for a faintly melancholy word on chimeras and the hope and sorrow they arouse; the muted, jazzy, rhythmic tune “Do You?” that channels a Pieces-of-You-era Jewel or even a dusky Corinne Bailey Rae; the exquisite “Masquerade,” an intricate, tortured tribute to Romeo and Juliet that features a rolling, minor piano and a heavy, fragile despair; and “Clair de Lune,” a lovely, diaphanous interpretation of Debussy’s famous melody complete with Merry Ellen’s own lyrics, that swells and ebbs like salty tides breaking lazily on gleaming white sand, a performance both deeply felt and lavishly played.

“I feel like everything that happens in your life kind of goes into your songs. It’s something that becomes part of your music. Who you are is your music.” Becoming so helplessly entwined with one’s music is a silent commitment to see the world through different eyes, an unalterable promise to commit one’s life to the glorious immortal verse. That poetry is what sight would be to the blind, speech to the dumb, walking to the crippled, and life to the condemned, but Merry Ellen Kirk sees, speaks, walks, lives, and she has poetry.

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