B.T. Express – 1980 (1980)

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B.T. Express
1980
Released 1980, Columbia JC 36333
 
 
 
Takin’ Off     3:52
Heart Of Fire     3:52
Does It Feel Good     5:43
Give Up The Funk (Let’s Dance)     6:25
Closer     3:35
Have Some Fun     5:23
Better Late Than Never     5:33
Funk Theory     4:22
 
Produced for Mighty M Productions
Mastered at Sterling Sound, N.Y.C.
Recorded and mixed at Counterpoint Studios, N.Y.C.
Additional recording at Music Grinder Studios, L.A.
Additional mixing at The Hit Factory, N.Y.C.
B.T. Express is:
Carlos Ward – Alto Saxophone, Flute, horn arrangments on ‘Give Up The Funk’
Rick Thompson – Guitar
Wesley “Pike” Hall, Jr. – Lead Guitar, Vocals
Bill Risbrook – Tenor Saxophone, Vocals
Dennis Rowe – Percussion, Vocals
Jamal Rasool – Bass, lead vocals
Additional musicians:
Buddy Williams – Drums
Gary Scott –  Arrangements and conducting, keyboards, synthesizer
Howard Westley “Butch” Stevens – keyboards
Recorded and mixed by Alan Meyerson and Gary Chester
Additional recording engineers – Gary Skardina, Ryan Ulyate
Assistant engineers – Ben Wisch, Karl Westman, Michael Ruffo
Mixed by – Gerry Block
Mastered by Greg Calbi
Additional production and arranging – Morrie Brown
Concertmaster – Marcy Dicterow
Executive Producer (supplied the coke) – Fred Frank
Barcode and Other Identifiers
    Matrix / Runout: AL 36333
    Matrix / Runout: BL 36333

If you’ve never listened to a record by B.T. Express, this probably isn’t the place to start.  Not that it is a bad album, it’s just not a really good album – but the good cuts on it are pretty damn good.  The quintessential 1970s funk sound of the band’s classic years is being “updated” for a new era here, complete with futuristic themes in the cover art and a little bit of the music.  Take the opening cut, “Taking Off!”, which appears to be about getting an aerobic workout in outer space.  It’s important to stay healthy in zero gravity, after all.   This song only becomes listenable after about the two-minute mark, when a blast-off of delay on the vocals signals that it’s time for the Express’ best asset, slinky horn lines.  Over all, though, the song is pretty awful, flirting with a “yacht rock” sound that is absurdly becoming hipster-trendy and undergoing a “revival” by certain contemporary music artists  who want to argue for it’s musical sophistication while they tell their audiences not to yell out during concerts or show up in football jersey’s because that’s too low-rent for their wine connoisseur pretensions.  Seriously, “yacht rock” and AOR are the new crate-digging frontier?  What’s next, Madlib remixes of Barry Manilow tracks?  Sorry but I’ll pass and wait for the next fetish they come up with, I ain’t biting on this revival.

Oh right, I was discussing a B.T. Express album.  Well, the Michael McDonaldisms get put away and things get more enjoyable.  There are a lot of non-band members on this record, most likely assigned to it by Columbia  after their previous album failed to do much on the charts.  There is something shameless about the interference in the band’s work ethic here, and the attempts at FM-crossover hooks in the choruses doesn’t always work for me.  I mean the second track is called “Heart Of Fire,” for Pete’s sake.  It’s almost like it was intended to confuse a slightly drunk person at a jukebox looking to for Earth Wind & Fire’s “That’s The Way Of The World” aka Hearts Afire.  Aside from the title, though, the similarity ends there.  It’s a good disco-funk burner, and has subtle poetry in lines like, “But my love for you, it keeps on comin’ and comin’ and comin’ and comin’…”    The third song, however, sounds to my ears like almost a direct theft of the tune “Don’t Hold Back” by Chanson to a degree that would even embarrass  Robin Thicke and Pharell.  I can’t objectively say anything about this tune.

The big track that people remember from this album, the one that charted, is “Give Up The Funk,” which sports another profoundly unoriginal title.  Thankfully there are no Parliament ripoffs to be found here, and no references to “the bomb,” as the sound is 100% B.T. Express with an updated sound, including the ray gun ‘pew pew pew’ of electric tom tom drums.  The tune also brings back the Express’s best trademark:  long, darkly-hued horn phrases used to punctuate the jams in a an understated  way, as if Maceo Parker took a few Valium and was trying not to be noticed off somewhere near the back of the stage.  Sax player Carlos Ward may have shunned the spotlight, but it’s the big failing of this record – and evidence of typical major label short-sightedness – that the one and only track that he arranges is also the only one to be a hit.  The others are all arranged by outsiders Morrie Brown and Gary Scott.  It should be noted that this cut contains an unusual spelling, “F-F-U-F-U-N-K”, which the band determined was the way our Alien Overlords were going to spell their favorite genre of music, due to their leader having a chronic stutter.

Side Two opens with the ballad “Closer,” the first ballad of the album.  I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago about how so many albums from this period would open with a tight, upbeat song for four minutes to get you dancing, then on the second track they would go all Barry White.  Too soon, man, not even Barry moves that fast.  So bonus points to B.T. Express for holding back until the second side.  This track is melodic and smooth, but not overdoing either one of those qualities.  The best thing about it is a completely nonsensical saxophone solo at the end, which begins each bar all Grover Washington but ends all Eric Dolphy.  What would Barry think of that?  Barack?

“Have Some Fun” is a good mid-tempo roller-skating tune, and the only time they dust off the old Hammond organ that featured so prominently on earlier albums.  Again, the chorus sounds written by committee, a formulaic hook that is pretty forgettable an hour later.   It has a nice breakdown with cool riffing on flute, organ, and guitar that makes me pretty happy, though.  It’s probably been sampled a bunch of times.   The next song, “Better Late Than Never,” probably could have just gone with “never,” I don’t have much to say about this tune either.  In fact you could probably just stop the record after “Have Some Fun” and preserve a better memory of this album, because the closer “Funk Theory” is pretty bad.  While  putting together this post I noticed that it seems reasonably popular on YouTube, so what the hell do I know?  The title sort of says it all, it’s as if a bunch of number crunchers wrote a program in DOS that would churn out FM-friendly funk hits, with lyrics that would look better on a chalk-board written a hundred times by an errant, unfunky student.

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Flabbergasted Freeform Radio Hour # 8

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FLABBERGASTED FREEFORM No.8
April 2014

Well it’s about time for another podcast.  I hope you enjoy it.  You can listen to it on either Mixcloud , or get yourself a direct download from these links.

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Playlist

Lord Nelson – Garrot Bounce
Alejandro Duran – Cumbia Costeña
Latin Fever – Chirrin Chirran
Sly and The Family Stone – Jigsaw Puzzle
Chubby Checker – Gypsy
Gabor Szabo – Theme From Valley Of The Dolls
Shorty Rogers and His Giants – Chega de Saudade
João
Gilberto, Miúcha, and Stan Getz – Isáura
Conjunto
Ajiruteua De Marapanim – Da Cacaia
Blue Mitchell – Flat Backing

———–

Nelson Sargento – Primavera
James Moody – You Got To Pay
Paco de
Lucia – Quizás, quizás, quizás
Jackson do
Pandeiro – Nortista quatrocentão
Raul Seixas, Sergio Sampaio, Edy Star – Quero Ir
Isaac  Hayes –
Chocolate Chip
Alberta Hunter – Sugar
Prince Buster – Don’t Throw Stones (or Rude Rude Rudie)
Olodum –
Vinheta Cuba-Brasil
The J.B.s – The Grunt Pt. 1
Golden Gate Quartet – Same Train
Som Três – Oh Happy Day
Maysa – Quizás, quizás, quizás
Ijahman Levi – Are We A Warrior

in 320 

Go to the PODCAST ARCHIVES PAGE

Chanson – Chanson (1978) 24/96khz

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CHANSON
“Chanson”
1978 Ariola Records  SW-50039


A1     Don’t Hold Back    4:23
A2     I Can Tell    7:03
A3     I Love You More     3:49
B1     Why     4:25
B2     Did You Ever    4:33
B3     All The Time You Need    5:10

LINEAGE: Vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge, Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 192khz; Click Repair; individual clicks and pops taken out with Adobe Audition 3.0 – dithered and resampled using iZotope RX Advanced (for 16-bit). Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.

James Jamerson Jr – lead vocals and bass guitar
David Williams – lead vocals, guitar
David Paich – Keyboards
Jeff Porcaro – drums
Eddie Bongo Brown – congas, bongos
Ollie Brown – percussion on “Did You Ever”
Al McKay – guitar
Steve Porcaro – Synthesizer on “All The Time You Need”
Linda Evans – lead vocal on “I Can Tell”
Horns – Donald Myrick, Michael Davis Michael Harris, Louis Satterfield, Fred Jackson Jr., Willian Green, Oscar Brashear, George Bohannon
Backing Vocals – Julia Tillman, Lorna Willard, Marti McCall
 Recorded At – Kendun Recorders
 Mixed At – Kendun Recorders
 Mastered At – Allen Zentz Mastering
 Arranged By – Benjamin F. Wright Jr.
Art Direction, Illustration – John Georgopoulos
Published by Kichelle Music/Jamersonian Music/Cos-K Music ASCAP.
Produced for MK Productions.
    Concertmaster [Strings] – Janice Gower
      Contractor – Don Myrick
    Coordinator [Production Coordination] – Susan Evans
    Engineer [Recording and Mixing] – Richard Heenan
    Executive Producer – Marc Kreiner, Tom Cossie
      Mastered By – Brian Gardner
    Photography By [Back Cover] – Art Maruyama
    Photography By [Front Cover] – Sam Vinci
        Typography [Lettering] – Tom Nikosey
Recorded and mixed at Kendun Recorders.
Mastered at Allen Zentz Mastering Inc.

“Chanson” was a project of  James Jamerson Jr. – son of the great Motown legend James Jamerson, and who had played with a bunch of Motown bands in his own right, including the 70s incarnation of the Temps – and David Williams, who had played with The Dells.  The two standout tracks were released on the single – “Don’t Hold Back,” the manically funky anthem to the 70s philosophy of “if it feels good do it” (actually a lyric in the chorus, shamelessly) with which they had a reasonably big hit and which features a classic breakdown in the middle, and the slower tune “Did You Ever,” which sounds like it might have been aiming for the Quiet Storm radio format.  Ollie Brown’s percussion on that tune is some of the most quiet conga playing I have ever heard and the whole tune works real nicely.  “I Can Tell” is straight-up disco-funk with lots of conga and a nice vocal from Linda Evans.    “I Love You More” is a  modern soul number with a funky verse, a pop hook in the chorus, and a tight little flute riff.  Side One only lasts about fifteen minutes (the whole album clocks in a half an hour).  So at this point you would get up and refresh your drink, powder your nose or whatever other rituals compel you, and when you flipped the record over hopefully you wouldn’t notice that the next song “Why” has the exact same chord pattern as the last tune.  Except it sounds more like Billy Ocean or maybe the Doobie Brothers covering a song by Billy Ocean.  It’s not bad but at this point you start to wonder if some of this record isn’t a kind of “paint by numbers” modern soul / R+B album.  The mellow “Did You Ever” brings things back from the brink and keeps it interesting, and the album goes out on another slow-burner, “Take All The Time You Need”.

The playing is all super-tight and the arrangements are solid but lean, with a live-band sound to all of it even though there are some string overdubs.  I particularly like how they favored using acoustic piano over keyboards, kind of an unusual production choice for an album of this kind in 1978.  The few synth patches here and there stand out because of that, but in a good way, like in the lead off track.  All in all, this group had potential but sort of prove that oodles of talent and tight grooves can only get you so far without the stellar songwriting available to the environment nurtured Jamerson’s dad.  The whole thing has a pretty radio-friendly sound, and the first track will stay stuck in your head for days, but the rest of the tunes may need a little superglue or chewing gum.  They made one more album, which I have but about which I can literally remember nothing at all.  Which leads me to believe this is the better of the two, although I suppose I can dig that one out again sometime.

P.S. – Louis Satterfield of Earth Wind and Fire toots a horn on this record.

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Tim Maia – Tim Maia (1977) (repost)

tim maia

tim maia

Because a neo-colonial gringo record label released a compilation of Tim’s material a while ago, heavily promoted by hipster-indie icons to sell CDs and overpriced vinyl to the trendy gentrifiars of American urban spaces, all of my Tim Maia blog posts got shut down on the same day.  I am reposting them for historical, archival purposes complete with my inane writings of the time they were originally posted.  Make sure to read all the appreciate comments and you will thank me later.

1 Pense menos

(Paulo Ricardo – Tim Maia)

2 Sem você

(Paulo Ricardo – Tim Maia)

3 Verão carioca

(Paulo Roquete – Reginaldo Francisco – Paulo Ricardo – Tim Maia)

4 Feito para dançar

(Paulo Ricardo)

5 É necessário

(Tim Maia)

6 Leva o meu blue

(Tim Maia)

7 Venha dormir em casa

(Tim Maia)

8 Música para Betinha

(Carlos Simões – Reginaldo Francisco – Paulo Ricardo – Tim Maia)

9 Não esquente a cabeça

(Carlos Simões – Tim Maia)

10 Ride twist and roll

(Tim Maia)

11 Flores belas (Instrumental)

(Tim Maia)

12 Let it all hang out

(Tim Maia)

Tim Maia – Vocal, drums, congas, acoustic guitar, percussion
Paulo Ricardo R. Alves – 6 and 12-string guitars, vocals,
Reginaldo Francisco – Acoustic and electric piano, organ, arp, vocal
Paulo Roberto R. Nazareth – guitar & vocal
Carlos Simões – bass
Geraldo – trumpet
Darci Seixas – trombone
Sebastião – alto saxophone
José Mauricio – guitar, vocal
César Fernando – congas, vocal
Paulo do Couto – cowbell
Guto Graça Mello – string arrangements

Production, horn and vocal arrangements – Tim Maia

Released on Som Livre 1977, reissue

According to Nelson Motta’s biography of Tim Maia, “Vale Tudo,” this record had a working title of “Verão Carioca” and marks the period where Tim began imbibing large quantities of coke. Whatever, Motta’s book is in fact poorly written, lacking any kind of sources, or even a comprehensive discography (or a partial one, for that matter). What is for certain is that this is the record where disco begins to be felt in his music in a positive way. Rug burners like “Feito Pra Dançar” nestle alongside heavy funk like “E Necessario.” Another highlight is “Não Esquente a Cabeça” which has memorable hooks and melodies, and tasty electric piano and guitar work over a smokey post-bossa pan-latin groove. It’s probably the catchiest song on here. This is prime material by polymath Tim Maia — producer, multi-instumentalist, and arranger on this record.

Motta does relate an anecdote about the rehearsals for the album, when there was construction going on right next door and all the songs ended up being arranged to the tempo of a jack-hammer. There is a reference to this on the ‘thank you’ section of the original album’s back cover.

 

African Music Machine – Black Water Gold 1972-74 (2000)

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African Music Machine
Black Water Gold
2000 Soul Power – LPS 3317
Collection of singles released 1972-3

A1 Black Water Gold (Pearl) 2:59
A2 Mr. Brown 2:48
A3 A Girl In France 2:25
A4 The Dapp 2:40
B1 Never Name A Baby (Before It’s Born) 3:10
B2 Tropical 2:20
B3 Making Nassau Fruit Drink 2:26
B4 Camel Time 2:50

   Bass, Vocals – Louis Villery
Drums – Louis Acorn
Guitar – Jumbo
Percussion – Osman
Piano, Organ – Obitu
Producer – Louis Villery
Saxophone [Tenor] – Tyrone Dotson
Saxophone [Tenor], Flute – Ete-Ete
Trumpet – Amal
Written By – Bell
Written-By – Louis Villery

————–

Vinyl-> Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge,
Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile
2496Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 96khz; Click Repair light
settings; individual clicks and pops taken out with Adobe Audition 3.0 –
resampled (and dithered for 16-bit) using iZotope RX Advanced. Tags
done with Foobar 2000 and Tag&Rename.




 This group released  4 singles between 1972 and 1974 on the Paula subsidiary label Soul Power Records, and they were collected on this LP posthumously.  New Orleans funk-soul band formed by bassist Louis Villery that sounds sometimes like James Brown meets Muscle Shoals meets early Chicago (the band)/Blood Sweat & Tears.  The opening cut is fantastic, and the arrangements on most of the cuts are inventive enough to keep things interesting.  Most of it is instrumental, and the vocals on a couple of tunes are kind of superfluous.  A couple tunes (A Girl In France & Tropical) have a kind of Meters-like feel mostly due to the rhythm guitar.  I could sort of imagine these guys playing a double bill in NOLA with The Meters.. in the opening slot, of course.   The tune Camel Time has a Santana-esque vibe, or maybe it’s a Malo vibe… crossed with some random outtake from the first Funkadelic record.


Well that is enough genetic-musical-splicing for one blog post.  In the end the music here is nothing to flip out over but it ain’t bad either.  In fact the first time you play it, it’s pretty damn enjoyable, but in my opinion it doesn’t quite hold my interest in the long-term after repeated listens.  I am sure if I were one of those freaks who only plays 45’s, I would love it more.



These are all mono mixes, but since the vinyl pressing is not truly cut in mono, I opted not to use the mono fold-down option in Clickrepair, it seemed like it do result in some weird phasing issues.  This stuff is pretty low-fi and it’s really more of an EP – 8 songs in about 20 minutes.  Personally, the 16-44.1 version
of this is good enough for me.  Maybe it’s the limitations of my speakers, or my ears, or the fact that I drink enough coffee to
sometimes give me tinnitus, but I just don’t there is enough sonic information here to make  huge difference.  Still, this was ripped in 24
bit – 96 khz, and I have the files, so why not share, cuz the internetz must have thems!

 

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Creative Source – Creative Source (1973) 24-bit

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CREATIVE SOURCE
1973 Sussex Records (SRA 8027)

1         You Can’t Hide Love (Skip Scarborough)     3:19
2         Let Me In Your Life (Bill Withers) 3:03
3         Lovesville    (Joe Thomas, Mike Stokes)     3:58
4         You’re Too Good To Be True    (Joe Thomas, Mike Stokes)    3:29
5         Wild Flower    (David Richardson, Douglas Edwards)    4:38
6         Magic Carpet Ride    (John Kay, Rushton Moreve)    3:10
7         Who Is He And What Is He To You    (Bill Withers, Stan McKenney)    11:40
8         Oh Love    (Joe Thomas, Mike Stokes)    3:25

CREATIVE SOURCE IS

    Barbara Berryman
Barbara Lewis
Don Wyatt
Steve Flanagan
Celeste Rose

Recorded at GM Studios, East Detroit, MI.
Overdubs at Record Plant, Los Angeles, CA.

    Arranged By – Paul Riser
Rhythm arrangments , Mike Stokes, Skip Scarborough
Vocal arrangements – Earl Thomas, Mike Stokes, Skip Scarborough
Engineers – Milan Bogdan, Phil Schier
Executive Producer – Bill Levenson
Mixed By – Don Blake, Mike Stokes
Producer – Mike Stokes
Mastered By – Bob “Loud and Clear” Dennis

Vinyl -> Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge, Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 192khz; Click Repair light settings; individual clicks and pops taken out with Adobe Audition 3.0 – resampled (and dithered for 16-bit) using iZotope RX Advanced. Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag&Rename.


When I first heard this record I was knocked flat by the opening track, “You Can’t Hide Love.”  I enjoyed the rest of the album with a few reservations but felt nothing quite regained that peak, and I had mixed feelings about the Bill Withers tracks.  My first impressions weren’t too off base, but I’ve come to appreciate just about everything on here.

The thing about this group, at least on this record, is that Creative Source was very much a “producer’s project” and that becomes even more apparent as you pay attention.  This includes the fact that the individual members don’t even get their damned names mentioned anywhere on the album.  (** This post originally stated that the Barbara Lewis on this was the same as the Barbara Lewis of  “Hello Stranger” and “Baby I’m Yours” fame, but as it turns out – see the comments thread – I was almost certainly mistaken. Don Wyatt  and with The Fortunes and The Colts.**)  The group was conceived and managed by former 5th Dimensions vocalist Ron Townsend, and it seems there was some idea about making Creative Source into a more adventurous version of that group for the new decade.   What we get is a nice, solid mix of Northern Soul, funk, and pop-soul flavorings.  Their second album, Migration, is probably a more solid record, but the stand out moments on this one stand out a little more.

My initial reaction to the Bill Wither covers was based on two things that made me uneasy.  First, this album was put out by his label, Sussex, and it is well known that Withers barely made a dime from those classic and very lucrative records.  As anyone who saw the Rodriguez doc will attest, it is also well known that label head Clarence Avant is a notorious crook, so the “convenience” of having several of his cash cow’s (Wither) compositions featured prominently here makes me wonder if Bill was even told about it before it happened, let alone got paid – and one of the Creative Source versions actually charted as a hit.  Second, one of the defining characteristics of the early Bill Withers was the bare-bones, no-bullshit simplicity and directness of the execution and arrangements.  His writing was emotionally complex but expressed in a very direct way.  So hearing his songs arranged with sugary-sweet, lush strings (Let Me In Your Life) or an Isaac Hayes-treatment with trickles of funky harp, Clavinet, and oodles of wah-guitar (Who Is He And What Is He To You), at first made me uncomfortable.  What have they done to Mr. Withers?  Well I quickly got over that.  Probably at about  2 minutes into the 11 minutes of “Who Is He…”  It’s just too cool to resist any longer.   If there is one good thing to be said for this approach, it is that they make no pretense at performing like Withers himself.  The songs are rearranged and recontextualized, and regardless of how you feel about the results, they end up proving again just what a massive songwriter he really was when their essence still shines through, even under the heavy-handed treatments. “Let Me In Your Life” is still probably a crime against the original vibe created by Bill Withers, but  on its own terms it works, and you have to give them credit for not going the easy route and just covering “Ain’t No Sunshine” like literally everyone else was doing in 1973.

Ditto for the odd but ambitious choice of covering Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride,” which is pretty cheesy and doesn’t really work.  However it still sports a nice trippy opening and a hard, funky breakdown in the middle.   “You’re Too Good To Be True” sound so much like Jerry Butler that if you dropped it into the middle of a mixtape I would actually be convinced it was in fact The Iceman.  This is also what might be the most relevant criticism of Creative Source – they sort of lacked their own personality, at least on their two Sussex albums (I haven’t heard their Polydor records, oddly enough).  The were an L.A. group who sometimes wanted to sound like Philly soul, sometimes like a Norman Whitfield project for Motown (Sussex was, after all, based in Detroit).   The two Barbaras and Celeste Rose are horribly under-utilized on this record too.  I would gladly have foregone the schmaltzy “Wildflower,” one of many songs with a male lead, for something featuring Ms. Lewis in its place.  Bugs the hell out of me that we don’t get any album credits (unless my copy is missing an insert, in which case I guess I will look pretty stupid for saying this).  I have no idea what session musicians played on this either although it’s fairly certain that Skip Scarborough (who worked with the Mizell Brothers, among others) graces it with his keyboard skills.

Like a ton of other groups on Sussex, Creative Source barely got any promotion or made any money (for themselves) so they were probably relieved when the label went belly-up, and they departed for greener, more financially-viable pastures.   One of these days I will give those Polydor albums a try.

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