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Holiday Gift Guide Review: Buck Owens, “Buck ‘Em! The Music of Buck Owens”

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Buck Owens - Buck EmNo less an eminent personage than American author William Faulkner once said that “a writer needs three things – experience, observation, and imagination – any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others.”  Country music legend and Bakersfield Sound pioneer Buck Owens, however, utilized all three of those key elements in his songs, which may help explain their timeless stature.  Fifty of those recordings are anthologized on Omnivore’s new Buck ‘Em! The Music of Buck Owens (1955-1967) (OVCD-75), a two-CD alternative history of the singer-songwriter-bandleader Owens.  If there was ever a time that Owens the musician took a backseat to Owens the cornpone cut-up of television show Hee-Haw, Omnivore has done its best to make sure those days are long gone.

Though Owens’ music has been compiled numerous times in the past, Omnivore’s release produced by Patrick Milligan eschews the predictable approach in favor of a more idiosyncratic one.  Buck ‘Em!, named after Owens’ new, posthumously-released autobiography, takes in the key singles and album tracks one might expect, but endeavors to present these songs in new ways.  All told, eleven chart-topping hits by Owens are featured, a number of which are presented in their original mono single versions (“I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail,” “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” “I Don’t Care (Just As Long As You Love Me),” “Sam’s Place,” and “Before You Go”).  A total of fifteen mono 45 versions of Owens staples are included, such as the holiday perennial “Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy.”  Live tracks – from New York’s Carnegie Hall, Bakersfield, and even Japan – have earned a spot on the collection, too, including renditions of favorites like “Act Naturally,” “Buckaroo” and “Together Again.”  Alternate versions of “My Heart Skips A Beat,” “Where Do The Good Times Go,” and “How Long Will My Baby Be Gone” make their U.S. CD debut, alongside a previously unissued version of “Under The Influence Of Love” and the first CD appearance of Omnivore’s sold-out Record Store Day single “Close Up The Honky Tonks.”  The tracks are arranged chronologically by recording date.

After the jump: a closer look at Buck ‘Em! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 17, 2013 at 12:54

Holiday Tunes Watch: Sony CMG Celebrates The Season with Bing, Buck, B.J., JB, Elvis and More

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Christmas With Bing CoverOccasionally the aisles of your local grocery or big-box store turn up releases you won’t find even in your local indie music store.  Such is the case with a recent batch of holiday-themed titles from Sony Commercial Music Group.  Just in time for Christmas ’13, CMG has unveiled a number of holiday compilations – and a handful of straight album reissues – for fans of classic pop (Bing Crosby, Patti Page), country (B.J. Thomas, Buck Owens, Roy Clark), rock-and-roll (Elvis Presley) and R&B (James Brown, and latter-day incarnations of The Drifters, The Platters, The Miracles and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes).  As you’ll see, there are some buried treasures to be discovered here.

Bing Crosby Enterprises has released a number of projects in recent years featuring ultra-rare Crosby tracks from the late legend’s archives, and the new Christmas with Bing! is no exception.  This release follows other recent, unique seasonal collections like 2011’s Bing Crosby Christmas from Sonoma Entertainment and South Bay Music and Christmas Favorites from Somerset Entertainment. Produced by Robert S. Bader, the compilation offers 14 tracks including a few reprised from the indispensable Crosby Christmas Sessions (Collectors’ Choice Music, 2010).  Three duets are sprinkled in among vintage singles and rare radio performances, including Ella Fitzgerald on “A Marshmallow World,” Bing’s widow Kathryn Crosby on “Away in a Manger,” and David Bowie on, of course, “The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth.”   Real Gone Music has recently reissued the late Patti Page’s 1955 Mercury release Christmas with Patti Page; now CMG has delivered the singer’s 1965 Columbia set of the same name which featured re-recordings of some of the earlier album’s music plus new holiday songs.  The Columbia Christmas with Patti Page includes such favorites as “Silver Bells,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Christmas Bells” and “Pretty Snowflakes.”

Buck Owens ChristmasThe late Bakersfield, California country hero Buck Owens has been in the spotlight for much of 2013 thanks to Omnivore Recordings’ stellar release program and the release of his autobiography Buck ‘Em!.  CMG’s Christmas with Buck Owens, produced by Rob Santos and licensed directly from Owens’ estate, includes twelve originals from Owens and his Buckaroos, including “Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy,” “Santa’s Gonna Come in a Stagecoach” and a still-relevant lament about “Christmas Shopping.”  Its eleven tracks sample Owens’ Capitol long-players Christmas with Buck Owens and His Buckaroos (1965) and Christmas Shopping (1968).  Buck’s Hee-Haw co-host and compatriot Roy Clark also gets a holiday overview with A Christmas Collection, produced by Doug Wygal.  Its fifteen tracks including such classics as “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!,” “Home for the Holidays” and “White Christmas” have all been licensed from Grand Ole Opry member Clark.

B.J. Thomas - Christmas LiveSony collects twelve Christmas tunes from Lee Greenwood (“God Bless the U.S.A.”) on Christmas, licensed from Cleopatra Records.  As well as “Tennessee Christmas” and “Lone Star Christmas,” Greenwood sings traditional classics from “The Little Drummer Boy” to “White Christmas.”  For years, B.J. Thomas has successfully walked the line between country and pop, and he showcases his still-strong voice on his enjoyable Christmas Live set.  This collection, licensed from Cleopatra and of mid-2000s vintage, features twelve live Christmas songs from the “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” man, including “The Christmas Song,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Tennessee Christmas.”  A longer version of the concert, with some non-holiday material, can be obtained on CD-R from Goldenlane Records as Hooked on Christmas or on DVD from Video Music as B.J. Thomas’ Christmas.

B.J. shared some of his repertoire, such as “Suspicious Minds” and “I Just Can’t Help Believin’,” with Elvis Presley.  Twelve of the King’s Christmas staples are represented on Merry Christmas…Love Elvis, produced by Jeff James and Lisa Grauso and remastered by Tom Ruff.  The compilation is drawn from Elvis’ 1957 and 1971 Christmas albums plus the 1966 single “If Every Day Was Like Christmas.  On the classic rock front, CMG also offers up a reissue of Ann and Nancy Wilson’s A Lovemongers’ Christmas.  Originally released in 1998 as The Lovemongers’ Here is Christmas, credited to the Wilsons’ Heart side project, it’s since been reissued under the official Heart name.  This edition contains the two bonus tracks that did not appear in 1998 but have been added to subsequent reissues, Patty Griffin’s “Mary” and Ann Wilson and Sue Ennis’ “Let’s Stay In.”

After the jump: we have the scoop on the soulful titles in this series, plus full track listings and pre-order links for all releases, plus discographical information where available! Read the rest of this entry »

Release Round-Up: Week of November 5

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Bowie The Next Day ExtraDavid Bowie, The Next Day: Extra (ISO/Columbia)

The year’s biggest comeback album is now available as a 2CD/1DVD set featuring B-sides, remixes, unreleased songs and four music videos. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Dylan Complete 2Bob Dylan, The Complete Album Collection Vol. One (Columbia/Legacy)

Dylan’s “official” albums discography from 1962 to 2012 is collected on this 47-disc set, featuring studio and live titles, 14 newly remastered albums and a two-disc compilation of non-LP material.

CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Collector’s USB (features full discography in 320 kbps MP3/FLAC): Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Jimi Hendrix - Miami PopJimi Hendrix Experience, Miami Pop Festival / Hear My Train A Comin’ (Experience Hendrix/Legacy)

A pristine 1968 unreleased performance by the Experience is newly released on CD and LP; video footage from that same performance is on display in a new American Masters documentary, as well.

Miami Pop CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Miami Pop LP:  Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Hear My Train DVD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Hear My Train BD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Buck Owens - Buck EmBuck Owens, Buck ‘Em! The Music of Buck Owens 1955-1967 (Omnivore)

Arriving in stores the same day as his posthumous autobiography, this double-disc anthology collects 50 of the Bakersfield giant’s greatest hits and rarities, from several years of solid catalogue projects at the Omnivore label. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Yes - Close to the EdgeYes, Close to the Edge: Deluxe Edition (Panegyric)

The legendary prog album (from a potential Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee) is remixed in stereo and surround by Steven Wilson and expanded with all sorts of audio rarities.

CD/DVD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
CD/BD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Written by Mike Duquette

November 5, 2013 at 07:43

Buck ‘Em! Omnivore Rides High With New Owens Anthology

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Buck Owens - Buck Em

Omnivore Recordings is saying, “Buck, yeah!” to the legacy of the late Mr. Owens.  Though the Bakersfield, California country-and-western legend died in 2006, his autobiography will arrive on November 5 from Backbeat Books and Hal Leonard Books.  Colorfully entitled Buck ‘Em!, it’s co-written with Randy Poe, author of Skydog: The Duane Allman Story.  And Omnivore is at the ready with the perfect soundtrack.  Buck ‘Em! The Music of Buck Owens (1955-1967) hits stores the very same day as the book, for the full Buck reading and listening experience!

The new 2-CD, 50-track deluxe anthology follows numerous other Omnivore projects from the Buck Owens/Buckaroos stable including Honky Tonk Man: Buck Sings Country Classics and Don Rich Sings George Jones, Live at the White House…and In Space, The Buckaroos Play Buck and Merle and Don Rich’s That Fiddlin’ Man plus various Record Store Day exclusives (including the personal favorite of this author, the Buck Owens coloring book).

What will you find on Buck ‘Em!?  You know what to do.  Just yell Hee-Haw! and hit the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

September 9, 2013 at 12:36

Review: The Buckaroos, “Play Buck and Merle” and Don Rich, “That Fiddlin’ Man”

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Buckaroos Play Buck and Merle“Who’s going to want to listen to the band with Don [Rich] playing the melody line to the song, when you could hear Buck [Owens] doing the real deal?” queried drummer Willie Cantu of The Buckaroos when called upon to record 1965’s all-instrumental The Buck Owens Song Book.  Capitol Records surely thought there would be an audience for the LP, proclaiming on its back cover that “you too can sing Buck’s country-western songs to the rousing, rhythmic playing of his buddy Don Rich and The Buckaroos!”  The original album has been out of print for many years now, but Omnivore Recordings is now giving you the chance to immerse yourself in the Bakersfield Sound.  The Buck Owens Song Book has been paired with The Buckaroos’ The Songs of Merle Haggard (1971) as The Buckaroos Play Buck & Merle (OVCD-65).  Both Play Buck & Merle and the new expanded reissue of Buckaroo Don Rich’s That Fiddlin’ Man (OVCD-66) continue the Omnivore label’s celebration of Bakersfield, California’s favorite sons (and favorite songs).

Even sans lyrics, one gets the gist of Buck Owens’ spirited music thanks to the Buckaroos’ fine and faithful playing on The Buck Owens Song Book.  Don Rich (fiddle/guitar) was joined by Doyle Holly (guitar), Tom Brumley (steel guitar), Bob Morris (bass) and Willie Cantu (drums) for the set of twelve Owens classics.  Many of Owens’ most beloved favorites were reprised by the band, including the breezy “Act Naturally” and rollicking “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail.”  The performances are alternately rousing and reflective, with the group’s distinctively rootsy, down-home sound.  These songs weren’t recorded in a jazz style, so there’s little improvisation and few individual showcases.  But there’s plenty of delightful interplay from a tight and twangy group whose members were clearly attuned to one another.  Rich, of course, stands out, as does Tom Brumley, whose distinctive “Brumley Touch” on the steel guitar adds dimension to tracks including the wistful “Together Again.”  The quintessential country weepers like “Second Fiddle” (“Will there never come a day/When I won’t have to play the part/Of second fiddle in your heart?”) and “Don’t Let Her Know” (“Laugh, dance and sing, so she won’t notice/The hurt that’s still burning deep inside/And don’t let her see the way I tremble/Don’t let her know how much I cried”) still resonate in the Buckaroos’ sympathetic hands.

Roughly six years later, a new group of Buckaroos – still under the direction of Don Rich – recorded The Songs of Merle Haggard, recognizing the former Buckaroo who actually is said to have given the group its name.  For this LP, Rich was joined by his bandmates Jim Shaw (piano/organ/harmonica/Jew’s harp), Doyle Curtsinger (bass/mandolin), Ronnie Jackson (banjo/rhythm guitar) and Jerry Wiggins (drums/percussion) on a selection from Hag’s great songbook.  There are notable differences between the two tribute albums, and not just because of the new personnel or Haggard’s rather more edgy material.  The Buckaroos employ vocals on The Songs of Merle Haggard, usually only on the choruses, and in a tasteful harmony style far-removed from the outlaw great’s own style.

Jim Shaw’s organ adds a new color to the Haggard album, but the Buckaroos’ sound is still filled with traditional Bakersfield twang led by Rich’s varied guitar tones.  Rich can be aggressive or romantic, leading sadly romantic songs like “Silver Wings” (“Silver wings shining in the sunlight/Roaring engines headed somewhere in flight/They’re taking you away and leaving me lonely/Silver wings slowly fading out of sight”) as well as politically incendiary ones like “The Fightin’ Side of Me” (with its famous “If you don’t love it, leave it” riposte) and the oft-misunderstood “Okie from Muskogee.”  Ronnie Jackson gets to flex his banjo muscles on the rip-roaring, purely instrumental “Legend of Bonnie and Clyde,” and the sound from the band and pianist Shaw is altogether lovely on the evocative memory play “Hungry Eyes.”  One of Haggard’s favorite themes, drinking, is represented with “Swinging Doors,” and The Buckaroos vividly bring its barroom setting to life with their rendition.

The original liner notes for both albums are reprinted in Omnivore’s new release, along with full lyrics for both albums.  (The original Haggard LP didn’t contain printed lyrics, so these are a very welcome extra.)  The package, nicely designed by Greg Allen with a tip of the hat to the original Buck Owens Song Book style, also includes an illuminating Q&A session with Buckaroos Cantu, Curtsinger and Shaw.  (The latter two Buckaroos still perform every Friday and Saturday evening at Owens’ Crystal Palace in Bakersfield!)

After the jump, we’re taking a look at That Fiddlin’ Man from the late, great Don Rich! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 23, 2013 at 08:07

They’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail: Don Rich and The Buckaroos Return From Omnivore

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Don Rich - That Fiddlin' ManOmnivore Recordings is going back to Bakersfield. Building on the success of such projects as Honky Tonk Man: Buck Sings Country Classics, Don Rich Sings George Jones, Buck Owens Live at the White House, Buck Sings Eagles, and (this author’s personal favorite!) the Buck Owens Coloring Book and Flexi Disc, Omnivore is mining the rich, rough-and-tumble country-and-western legacy of that California town for two new releases due on July 23.

Buck Owens’ iconic band The Buckaroos are celebrated with The Buckaroos Play Buck and Merle, in which they pay tribute to the two Bakersfield heroes they knew so well, Messrs. Owens and Haggard. This disc brings together the band’s The Buck Owens Songbook (1965) and The Songs of Merle Haggard (1971) on one CD. It will be joined by Don Rich and the Buckaroos’ 1971 album That Fiddlin’ Man in its very first ever appearance on compact disc.

Buck Owens’ guitarist and all-around right-hand man Don Rich often made room in the set for one of his many specialties: the fiddle. On tunes like “Orange Blossom Special,” Rich proved his virtuosity on the instrument, and in 1971, Capitol Records collected ten fiddlin’ tracks from the Buckaroos’ catalogue as That Fiddlin’ Man. Though a few tracks have appeared on CD before, Omnivore is reissuing the album in its original sequence for the very first time, complete with the groovy psychedelic cover artwork! In the spirit of the original release, the label has added another ten tracks of The Buckaroos, Don Rich, and his fiddle, making for a definitive survey of his style. In total, the new compact disc presents 20 tracks drawn from 13 different albums recorded between 1963 and 1970. The expanded edition of That Fiddlin’ Man includes a full-color booklet with new liner notes, photos and information on the source of each track. It should prove a fine companion to Don Rich Sings George Jones, the recently-excavated solo album that spotlights his underrated work as a vocalist. Rich’s life ended too soon when he perished in a motorcycle accident in 1974 at 32 years of age, but his music has proven in the timeless tradition of truly classic country.

Hit the jump to sing along with The Buckaroos!

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

May 17, 2013 at 09:37

Reviews: Buck Owens, “Honky Tonk Man: Buck Sings Country Classics” and Don Rich, “Sings George Jones”

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Buck Owens - Honky Tonk Man coverWith its two latest releases, Omnivore Recordings continues its great Bakersfield rescue mission.  Texas-born and Arizona-raised, Buck Owens made his mark in that California city, answering the prevailing “countrypolitan” style with a return to a pure and unadorned honky-tonk sound.  But that “natural” sound had roots that ran deep in Bakersfield.  Yet Owens’ parallel career as the avuncular, perpetually joking co-host of television’s cornpone Hee Haw may have caused audiences to take his once-adventurous brand of music less seriously, a fact that reportedly wasn’t lost on Buck.  Owens eventually was recognized for his towering achievements (including nineteen No. 1 country singles between 1963 and 1969 alone) with berths in the Country Music and Rockabilly Halls of Fame, but he still doesn’t often receive the plaudits one might associate with an artist of his stature.  Omnivore has done all in its power to change that, having released numerous Owens titles including the delightful Buck Owens Coloring Book; the Buck Sings Eagles EP; and the Live at the White House album.  It’s rescuing the legend of Bakersfield country music with two new must-haves for any C&W connoisseur: Owens’ Honky Tonk Man: Buck Sings Country Classics (OVCD-52) and Don Rich Sings George Jones (OVCD-50).  Though packaged with Omnivore’s customary care and attention to detail in both design and annotation, what makes these releases remarkable is that none of the music on either disc has been previously issued.  Both discs add up to a true treasure trove.

Perhaps ironically, all of the songs on Honky Tonk Man have been derived from recordings made for Hee Haw.  Despite the show’s humorous “Laugh-In Goes Country” premise, Owens saw that its musical performances were always top-notch.  All musical tracks on the show were pre-recorded by his Buckaroos so that Owens could sing live over the band’s taped instrumentals for the broadcast.  He recorded “reference vocals” over these tracks, however, and those vocals would be removed when it came time to transfer the recordings for the TV track.  Yet the full voice-and-accompaniment recordings remained in Owens’ vault, making it possible for Omnivore to release them from the original multitracks.  And though these vocals weren’t intended for air, they’re evidence that Owens still gave it his all.

When selecting the music for Hee Haw, Owens frequently turned to the songbooks of contemporaries and inspirations.  And so Honky Tonk Man finds him tackling Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, Jimmie Rodgers, Merle Haggard, Hank Snow and John D. Loudermilk.  On these 1972 and 1973 sessions, vocalist/acoustic rhythm guitarist Owens was backed by The Buckaroos (Don Rich on electric guitar and fiddle, Buck’s son Buddy Alan Owens on acoustic guitar, Jerry Brightman on pedal steel, Ronnie Jackson on banjo, Jim Shaw on piano and organ, Doyle Curtsinger on bass and Jerry Wiggins on drums); Don Lee on electric guitar and Jana Jae on fiddle replaced the late Rich for a handful of songs from 1975.

After the jump: more on Buck, plus a look at the long-lost solo LP by Don Rich! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 22, 2013 at 11:34

Release Round-Up: Week of January 22

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Billy Joel - Love SongsBilly Joel, She’s Got a Way: Love Songs (Columbia/Legacy)

The romantic side of the Piano Man is featured on this new compilation. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Searching for Sugar Man Blu-RayRodriguez, Searching for Sugar Man (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

One of the most captivating catalogue music documentaries of 2012 is now available on DVD  (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.) and Blu-Ray (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)!

Blue Nile HatsThe Blue Nile, A Walk Across the Rooftops / Hats: Deluxe Editions (Virgin/EMI)

Slated for release in the U.K. late last year, these two double-disc expansions of The Blue Nile’s first two LPs, featuring many rare and unreleased recordings, are on the schedule today, as well. (A Walk Across the RooftopsAmazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. – Hats: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Buck Owens - Honky TonkBuck Owens, Honky Tonk Man: Buck Sings Country Classics / Don Rich, Don Rich Sings George Jones (Omnivore)

Two never-before-released sets from two legends of Bakersfield are coming from Omnivore! (Buck Owens: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. – Don Rich: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

The Very Best of The PoguesThe Pogues, The Very Best of The Pogues (Shout! Factory)

A new Pogues compilation – according to the label, the only one in print in the U.S. right now. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Four Seasons - Gold Vault of HitsFrankie Valli and The 4 Seasons, Gold Vault of Hits 2nd Vault of Golden Hits (Rhino)

Two original 4 Seasons compilations, released by Philips in 1965 and 1966, work their way to CD from Rhino. (Gold VaultAmazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.2nd Vault: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Say Anything All My Friends Are EnemiesSay Anything, All My Friends Are Enemies: Early Rarities (Equal Vision)

A three-disc set featuring Max Bemis and his emo ensemble’s first self-released albums. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Black Friday 2012: Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Rolling Stones, Frank Zappa Lead Off Packed Slate of RSD Exclusives

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Here in the U. S. of A., Black Friday is almost upon us: that unusual date following the prior day of giving thanks, in which consumers make a mad dash to the local big-box store, mall or shopping center to procure bargains for the holiday season ahead.  Retailers are controversially beginning Black Friday “festivities” even earlier than usual this year, with many sales starting on Thanksgiving Day itself and not even at midnight but in the early part of the evening.  For a number of recent years, music buyers have had our own Black Friday, that day in April known as Record Store Day in which the aisles of our independent retailers are filled with hunters of collectible vinyl and CD releases.  Record Store Day has in the past sponsored a mini-RSD event on Black Friday, but this year, the titles on offer are as enticing and nearly as plentiful as those on the main RSD itself.  For some, this will be a source of frustration, for others, excitement.

This year’s line-up for Record Store Day – Black Friday brings titles from some of the biggest names in rock including The Beach Boys, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and Nirvana, plus cult favorites like Leonard Cohen, Lee Hazlewood and Frank Zappa, and country-and-western legends such as Wanda Jackson and Buck Owens.

After the jump and without further ado, we’ll fill you in on the crème of the reissued crop come this Black Friday!  Just click for your full list of the catalogue releases to watch! Read the rest of this entry »


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Written by Joe Marchese

November 19, 2012 at 10:07