Episode 109: Back in the Saddle

After 108 episodes, my output of podcasts ground to a halt.  I guess a two-year old, super-demanding job and crashed computer will do that to you.  My last show was in October, a whopping nine months ago!  That’s probably nothing for the newbies still trying to play catch-up, but for some close friends it’s seemed like forever.

Anyway, I haven’t bothered with a theme for this week.  I’m just playing some music that’s been released since Episode 108.  Enjoy.

  1. Don’t Forget (To Forget About Me) – The Mary Onettes (Hit the Waves/Labrador/2013)
  2. Love is Lost – David Bowie (The Next Day/Columbia/2013)
  3. Four Teeth – True Widow (Circumambulation/Relapse/2013)
  4. Distance – Beaches (She Beats/Chapter Music/2013)
  5. Islands (She Talks in Rainbows) – Guided by Voices (English Little League/Guided By Voices, Inc./2013)

Radio Free Raytown – Episode #109 (8/6/13)

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2013, so far.

Ian's been waiting all his life for the new My Bloody Valentine record.

Ian’s waited all his life for another My Bloody Valentine record!

Since the year is now half-empty (or half-full or whatever), a friend asked me for a list of my favorite records of 2013.  He felt that, apart from the new Yo La Tengo record, there was no real “slam-dunk” this year.  I courteously, yet vehemently, disagree.  So here’s a list of several records that captured my attention in the first half of 2013.  (The order here means nothing, I don’t want to rank them just yet.)  Let’s see if they stick around for my year-end list…

Thought and Language by Dead Leaf Echo

Dead Leaf Echo has been around a few years now and finally delivered the solid album that should get attention.  I tend to like any new shoegaze band, so an album like this, full of perfect and hazy pop songs, always gets my attention.

Fade by Yo La Tengo

One of the band’s best and most concise albums in a catalog full of “best” albums.  I love it.  A great starting point for anyone unfamiliar with Yo La Tengo or life itself.

mbv by My Bloody Valentine

Pandemonium ensued the night My Bloody Valentine released its new record.  Kevin Shields hinted a week earlier that it was coming, but after nearly two decades since the band’s last record, I was skeptical.  It doesn’t overwhelm with shock and awe at first, instead the band takes its time.  Shields has delivered a fairly quiet record with some classy songwriting.  Until the end, then it gets crazy.

Iceage, performing at this year's Middle of the Map Festival in Kansas City

Iceage, performing at this year’s Middle of the Map Festival in Kansas City.

You’re Nothing by Iceage

I went nutso a few months ago when Iceage released its second album and played at The Riot Room.  I kinda feel like it was as close as I’ll get to ever seeing Joy Division.  Not only is its live show amazing, but the new record is also fantastic.  A little more dry-sounding and mature than the last one, it’s also brief, demanding repeated plays.

The Next Day by David Bowie

I’d be a millionaire if I had a nickel for every time I read the phrase, “Bowie’s best album since Scary Monsters,” to describe The Next Day.  It’s kinda maddening, really, considering how much good material filled Heathen and Reality.  (Sure, those weren’t totally solid albums, but whatever.)  This new record is awesome.  With each song sounding like a different stage in his career, it almost feels like a best-of collection, except that they’re all new songs.

She Beats by The Beaches

Fuzzy, Aussie band that’s spent far too much time with its Sonic Youth and Neu! albums.  Enough said.

Without a Net by Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter turns 80 this year, but you wouldn’t know it by his playing.  Sometimes he deconstructs songs with reckless abandon, squawking away on his soprano sax.  Sometimes he composes super-ambitious, 23-minute pieces for a large combo.  At his age/stature, he could/should be the star of his own records, but Shorter seems content to step back and let listeners enjoy his insanely-talented band, as well.

The Terror by The Flaming Lips

Why am I even writing about this?  I’m not sure I even ‘get’ this record yet.  Dark, weird, lots of synthesizers and that one Suicide beat in nearly every song.  I think I just answered my question.

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10 jazz records you should own

herbie_1974

Herbie Hancock and The Headhunters, his band for his 1974 album, Thrust

Some friends have indicated that they just don’t know where to start when it comes to jazz records.  Some of them feel it would be valuable for me to offer a list of recommendations.  I understand that Jazz can be intimidating, as it often evolves into a cerebral exercises.  You know, dudes will solo in a particular mode in a certain time signature while the rhythm section plays in another time signature and, truthfully, it’s no longer even tuneful or moving.

Before I begin, a little concerning my history with jazz might be helpful.  I played alto saxophone until my freshman year of college.  I also played baritone saxophone for three years in high school.  Between the busyness of life and the intonation problems of my student-issue horn, I stopped playing and pursued songwriting and rock instruments.  During this time, I sought out mostly rock recordings, as well.  This gap, however unfortunate it may be perceived, gave me a different perspective on jazz recordings when I finally returned to them later in college.  While I can appreciate technical prowess, I’m a bigger fan of sounds and melodies.  I also prefer small groups, or combos, to overblown big bands.

Obviously this list is not exhaustive; I’m leaving out some real heavy-hitters.  I just hope the annotated list offers a place to start and doesn’t get too technical (for lay people who just want to discover cool music).

1.  Thrust – Herbie Hancock (Columbia / 1974)

Thrust is the follow-up to Herbie’s big, funky, fusion break-out record, Headhunters.  Simply put, I like this one better.  The grooves are more tight and the drumming more precise.  I feel like Herbie and his backing band, The Headhunters, have gelled with this record.  Probably the most accessible album on this list to start with.

2.  Kind of Blue – Miles Davis (Columbia / 1959)

Miles was like only a handful of career artists who constantly evolved and reinvented themselves.  (Bob Dylan, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, David Bowie and Elvis Costello also come to mind.)  This record finds Miles and his bandmates embracing modal soloing.  Don’t worry about what that means, just know that it opens up the bebop sound.  He pieced together a stellar band of dudes  who really listened to one another and were, themselves, on the cusp of true greatness.  I know, I know, this is an obvious, big album in Miles’ catalog (and in all of music) but it’s still a great starting point.

3.  House on Hill – Brad Mehldau (Nonsuch / 2006)

The most recent album in the list.  I love Brad Mehldau’s airy style (reminiscent of Keith Jarrett, but I’d say Mehldau is usually more accessible), and I feel this record finds him at his best.  A great album to play as you watch the rain fall.

4.  Red Clay – Freddie Hubbard (CTI / 1970)

The funkiest fusion record you will ever find.  It’s a collision of funk, soul and jazz.  Lenny White’s drumming is so crisp and precise.  Some great playing and comping, too, but I don’t want to get too technical.  Like so many releases on CTI, this seems intended for vinyl.  The drums sounds perfect and warm on wax; the gate-fold artwork is gorgeous.

5.  Off-Limits – The Francy Boland/Kenny Clarke Big Band (Polydor / 1970)

I’m not usually a fan of big band recordings.  (Playing in bands, on the other hand, was pretty fun.)  This is the only big band to make my list, and it’s quite impressive.  The group has two drummers, hard-panned left and right, and the horn lines swoop in and out in a dizzying manner.  It’s hard to keep up with it all, but it’s beautiful.  With everything going on, it’s surprising that the best moments are quiet and autumnal.  Hard to describe, but it’s a must-have.

6.  Moon Germs – Joe Farrell (CTI / 1973)

Farrell is a criminally-overlooked tenor sax player.  In fact, I recommended him to a friend who just graduated with a degree in tenor sax performance, and he had never heard of the guy.  Playing with some of Miles Davis’ late-60s band, this album finds Farrell at his most funky.  It’s worth getting this record for the drum break in “Great Gorge,” alone–it feels like the drummer (DeJohnette) predicts the future of 80s hip-hop with just that one break.

7.  Conversations with Myself – Bill Evans (Verve / 1963)

I think Bill Evans is my favorite pianist.  I won’t gush about his beautifully-voiced chords, but they are beautiful.  Trust me.  Just get this record and be amazed.  It’s a solo piano record without precedent.  Evans accompanies himself, one piano track on the left and another, overdubbed part on the right.  Occasionally, he even adds a third piano down the middle.  Great tunes and an inventive (for the time) delivery.

8.  Search for the New Land – Lee Morgan (Blue Note / 1964)

Much like Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan was a trumpet player whose legacy is often overshadowed by Miles Davis’.  This album is well-balanced between swinging bop and new sounds of the 60s.  I especially love the title track, as it explores that expansive (airy?) vibe that Coltrane and Miles were after, as well. It’s as close to psychedelia as many acoustic jazz musicians got without tape manipulation and overdubbing.

9.  Timeless – John Abercrombie (ECM / 1974)

I really don’t care for many fusion guitarists.  Trading style for wankery, these dudes seem only concerned with impressing the listener (or themselves).  While that can be fun, it usually just gets old.  Throughout his career, Abercrombie occasionally nailed it, delivering cool vibe and melodies.  This is it.  Oh yeah, and check out the crazy breakdown with synth bass and drums (same dude who drummed on the aforementioned Joe Farrell record) nine minutes into “Lungs”.  That sick track, alone, makes most DJ Shadow records obsolete.

10.  Speak Like a Child – Herbie Hancock (Blue Note / 1968)

Before he became a jazz/funk rockstar, Herbie was on the verge of becoming a first-rate jazz composer.  Speak Like a Child and The Prisoner feature fantastic horn arrangements.  This record, in particular, is especially solid and would make for a great film noir soundtrack.  Very few songs make me cry, and “Goodbye to Childhood” has brought me to tears, twice.

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Rotation (1/21/13)

Long before last.fm, Instagram and Facebook sharing, an important tool in musical discovery on the internet was through the sharing of rotations on message boards and email discussion lists. Inspired by radio stations that would post the singles currently in rotation, people would share lists of recently played albums.

While they could be perceived as exercises in elitism or narcissism, these lists also served as recommendations (for albums that required years of scouring local record stores). Hopefully this list is helpful, as not everything I listen to can be scrobbled.

Just a list, in no particular order, of what I’ve been listening to over the past two weeks or so.

10. The Bears for Lunch – Guided by Voices (Guided by Voices / 2012)
9. Coltrane – John Coltrane (Impulse! / 1962)
8. Opus de Jazz – Milt Jackson (Savoy / 1956)
7. Third Stream Music – The Modern Jazz Quartet + Guests (Atlantic / 1960)
6. Out of the Woods – Tracey Thorn (Astralwerks / 2007)
5. It’s a Jungle in Here – Medeski, Martin and Wood (Ryko / 1993)
4. Car Alarm – The Sea and Cake (Thrill Jockey / 2008)
3. A Smattering of Outtakes and Rarities – Yo La Tengo (Matador / 2005)
2. Low – David Bowie (RCA / 1977)
1. Stage – David Bowie (RCA / 1978)

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Top 12 of 2012

I’ve a penchant for flippant hyperbole. But when it comes to honestly making lists of favorite albums from any given year, it can take me forever. Unlike years past when I waited a couple months to post my lists, I’ve only missed my self-imposed New Year’s deadline by a few days, so I consider this progress.

I do know some people take my recommendations seriously, so I’ve really put some thought into this list. This is not necessarily what I consider to be last year’s best albums. It’s simply a list of the ones I enjoyed the most in 2012. With seemingly everyone on Spotify or Rdio these days, I hope you all can listen to most of these (multiple times each). If you don’t have access to those services, I’ve included links to a choice song from each album. Enjoy.

12. Dumb Gold by Motel Beds

Another year, another record from another Dayton band that I adore. Maybe it’s too simplistic to say that Motel Beds are a combination of The Ventures and T. Rex, but that’s not too far off, either. If they make a record next year, I’m sure it’ll be in my year-end list then, as well.

Song: Valentimes

11. The Bears for Lunch by Guided by Voices

I thought that, when bands reunite, they’re supposed to just tour and play their hits. Never would I imagine that Guided by Voices’ classic, early-nineties lineup could reunite and release three(!) albums of new material in one year. Then again, I guess most bands don”t have a super-prolific songwriter like Robert Pollard. The Bears for Lunch is its third, and most consistent, album of the year. Not surprisingly, the band is preparing a new EP and full-length album for next year…

Song: The Challenge is Much More

10. Departure Songs by Hammock

A friend characterized Hammock’s music as “post-rock version of The Church,” which sounds as good as any description to me. This record finds the band at its most epic and lush, nearly beating Sigur Ros and M83 at their game. A full two discs in length, Departure Songs is an exhausting, yet very rewarding listen if you don’t mind losing yourself in endlessly reverberating guitars and sweeping orchestrations.

Song: Ten Thousand Years Won’t Save Your Life

9. Dwarf Mountain Alphabet by Joy Electric

I’m pretty sure Ronnie Martin is the only guy out there making synthpop with only analog synthesizers. No drum machines or computers here. If his work ethic alone doesn’t convince you, know that he has delivered his most focused and dancey collection of pop songs since 1997’s Robot Rock. Oh yeah, and his vocals have never sounded better.

Song: Whose Voice Will Not be Heard

8. Shields by Grizzly Bear

I don’t care how predictable Grizzly Bear’s spot in my year-end lists is becoming; I love this band. At the heart of its best songs is a folky-pop thing that I adore. Of course, the band dresses it up with great drumming, lush background vocals and thoughtful horn/string arrangements. I think Grizzly Bear occasionally gets backlash because of its rising popularity and the fact that Ed Droste’s vocals sound so good. Oh, that more bands pay such attention to arrangements, harmonies and lyrics!

Song: Yet Again

7. Lonerism by Tame Impala

Trailing close behind my love for great songwriting is weird sounds. On its last album, Innerspeaker, Tame Impala delivered psychedelia and killer guitar jams. This time around, the band uses more synthesizers and plays up its Paul McCartney and Todd Rundgren influences. A weird and totally perfect album.

Song: Mind Mischief

6. Melody’s Echo Chamber by Melody’s Echo Chamber

So Melody Prochet worked with Australian band, Tame Impala, to make a sugary pop record. Except that, around the seventh track, the band derails the process and the album drops off a cliff into fuzzy, new wave-influenced psychedelia. And it’s beautiful.

Song: I Follow You

5. Places by Sam Billen

I guess admiration could muck up our friendship, but I’ve always envied Sam’s songwriting and musicianship. Songs like “It’s My Life” and “Someday You’ll Regret” that he wrote for his old band, The Billions, were monumental in my personal and musical discovery/development. While I’ve loved his solo recordings up to this point, they’ve never captured the magic of the demo CDs he recorded ten years ago. But this year, Places did it for me. I feel like Sam has finally captured my feeling of driving off from The Billions’ farmhouse, playing one of his collections of mature, difficult songs and rupturing my cerebellum. I love you, Sam.

Song: It’s Not a Lie

4. >> by Beak

Beak, a side project of Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, is quickly becoming a favorite band. It plays to the right influences, most notably Neu! and Syd Barrett. (And you should know that I love Krautrock. Neu!, Cosmic Jokers and Agitation Free are some of my all-time favorite bands.) With vocals taking a backseat to some luminous, motorik grooves, this is perfect music for 2:00 am.

Song: Wulfstan II

3. Kill for Love by Chromatics

Come on now, how can you make an album of hazy, eighties Italian disco with reverb-drenched guitars and expect me not to like it?

Song: The Page

2. Bloom by Beach House

I’ve followed Beach House since its first record, so Bloom didn’t really come out of nowhere for me. I can’t help but feel like this dreampop fad in indie rock might be just a little too trendy. Just as long as bands remember to match the sound with great songs, I’m okay with more albums like this.

Song: Other People

1. Nootropics by Lower Dens

I’m not sure why it’s suddenly hip to sound like a Krautrock band, but I like it. While I loved Bloom by Beach House, Nootropics was just more dark and murky and German, tipping the scales for me. True, I found it to be one of the year’s least-immediate albums, but all that extra work I’ve put into understanding it has made it my favorite of 2012.

Song: Brains

Honorable mentions (or albums that I liked and don’t want to not mention in this blog post): Attack on Memory by Cloud Nothings, The Loudest Sound Ever Heard by The Choir, Until the Quiet Comes by Flying Lotus, Sweet Heart Sweet Light by Spiritualized, Oshin by Diiv, Plumb by Field Music, and My Height in Heels by She Does is Magic.

Stuff I didn’t hear in 2012 (but would probably make my list if I had):Europe by Allo Darlin’, Wild Peace by Echo Lake, Cancer for Cure by El-P, Ark by Halls and Nocturne by Wild Nothing.

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Episode 108: Another Sunny Day

Dedication in the used copy of Belle and Sebastian’s biography I picked up at The Strand bookstore in New York City a couple years ago.

I discovered Belle and Sebastian later in college than most. It’s not that I didn’t get its music; it’s just that I already listened to many other twee bands (and the bands they influenced). Don’t get me wrong, I liked If You’re Feeling Sinister, but I just didn’t see what the big deal was. Then I started paying attention to the lyrics…which you don’t necessarily do if you’re into twee or indie pop.

Does it diminish a band’s worth to consider the context in which it creates music? Does it put a damper on that moment you discover a new band to consider the other bands in its scene? Does it make a band seem less creative when you find out what’s in the lead singer’s album collection?

I think it’s always important to consider context when analyzing art, especially music (because that’s what I know best). It’s especially important with someone like Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch, who is obviously a referential writer. This is why I devote Episode #108 to the musical ancestry of Bell and Sebastian. Have I exhaustively discussed every band that influenced Murdoch? Or course not, but they are all very influential. (And, if you read the band’s biography, Belle and Sebastian: Just another Modern Rock Story, you’ll find many pages devoted to Murdoch’s adoration of these bands.) This show is a starting point for many evenings getting caught in internet wormholes, discovering obscure Britpop bands.

At any rate, in the era of publicly-accessible Spotify playlists, I’m unsure that I need to merely make podcasts amounting to little more than shuffled playlists and commentary. I hope you find focused shows like this helpful. I still bristle at the idea of themed shows; I just want to help everyone grasp the context in which my favorite music is created. Enjoy.

  1. “Do You Remember Walter?” – The Kinks (The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society / Reprise / 1968)
  2. “One of These Things First” – Nick Drake (Bryter Layter / Island / 1970)
  3. “Caroline Goodbye” – Colin Blunstone (One Year / Epic / 1971)
  4. “Down but Not Yet Out” – Felt (Forever Breathes the Lonely Word / Creation / 1986)
  5. “I’m in Love with a Girl Who Doesn’t Know I Exist” – Another Sunny Day (Air Balloon Road / Sarah / 1990)
  6. “Another Sunny Day” – Belle and Sebastian (The Life Pursuit / Matador / 2006)

Radio Free Raytown – Episode #108 (10/5/12)
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Freaks.

Pop music is difficult to execute well. Many times accessibility trumps creativity and bands leave me wanting. But some do it well, even while toying with popular, ephemeral sounds and studio chicanery.

This is clearly what Matt Bronleewe, Dan Haseltine and Jeremy Bose attempt with The Hawk in Paris. They clearly don’t desire to forge new musical ground. In fact, they sound like a bunch of middle-aged guys trying to re-create the magic of their favortie eighties synthpop bands. (Definittely not a bad thing.)

The swagger and spaghetti Western guitars in title track, “Freaks,”obviously owe a lot to Depeche Mode. “Birds on a Wire” seems to take more chances, dropping out the beat in places and adding flourishes of acoustic guitars, while invoking some of Simple Minds’ mid-to-late eighties work. Kitsch weighs heavy on the last track, “Wake Me Up,” tipping its hat to the way Pet Shop Boys’ early work mixed R&B with pop. The auto-tuned vocals and lyrics (“I don’t wanna have another dream without you.”) further add to the band’s shtick.

With the promise of two more EPs this year, I’m excited to hear what The Hawk in Paris delivers. As a rabid fan of Simple Minds, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, Camouflage and New Order, I welcome anyone who seems to get synthpop. Sure The Hawk in Paris is referential and invokes some obvious influences, but I think that’s the point. And I love it.

Buy it now.

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Episode 107: Wait Underwater with Me

Sometimes I wonder if it would be more convenient to just post Spotify playlists instead of recording these episodes. Whenever I start believing this work is in vain, supporters come out of the proverbial woodwork. For example, last week a friend encouraged the audience at his concert to check out my blog. “Jonathon Smith knows your favorite bands before you do,” he announced.

Who knows? Maybe I’ve included songs from of your new favorite bands this week.

Enjoy.

  1. “Moonshake” – Can (Future Days / United Artists / 1973)
  2. “Lists, Plans” – A Sunny Day in Glasgow (Scribble Mural Comic Journal / Notenuf / 2007)
  3. “Sea Birds” – Burning Hearts (Aboa Sleeping / Shelflife / 2009)
  4. “Crest” – The Antlers (Undersea / ANTI / 2012)
  5. “Please Let Me Wonder” – The Beach Boys (Today! / Capitol /  1965)

Radio Free Raytown – Episode #107 (8/3/12)

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A few thoughts.

Cover of Ten Years After’s 1969 album, Ssssh

I didn’t have time to record a podcast this week, but that hasn’t stopped me from thinking about music.

  • A friend asked me about Slowdive this week. Fortunately for him, I already had a Slowdive playlist in Songbird. (Does this really surprise you?) So I burnt him a mix CD from that playlist just before Thurday’s rain. Diving back into the band’s dreamy catalog with light rain rapping upon the windowpanes was perfection. I can’t wait for him to hear this; it’s gorgeous.
  • I stopped at Half Price Books in Westport on Thursday and bought Stereolab’s Margerine Eclipse and ABC Music. Now, I’m on a serious Stereolab kick. Don’t hate.
  • I wish my wife wouldn’t have informed me Stars will be playing at The Bottleneck in Lawrence on October 9. We won’t be able to attend, as it’s on a weeknight. Oh, to see them perform “Ageless Beauty“!
  • My friend, Brandon Briscoe, stopped by yesterday, and I introduced him to the music of Ten Years After. I’ve always felt that the band’s lead guitarist, Alvin Lee, was the best of the British blues rock players. Since everyone and everything is on Spotify, I suggest you check out the band’s records Cricklewood Green, Ssssh and Watt. In that order.
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Episode 106: The middle of July in a stocking cap.

Dan Billen, performing with The Billions

I don’t know what the weather’s like in your neck of the woods, but it’s been insanely hot in Raytown this summer. About the only thing worth doing is watching my son play around in the living room and listening to records. Fortunately for us, a ton of great music has been released in the past few months.

I’m occasionally accosted by dudes who want me to play their music on my show. (As if they’ll see a substantial uptick in albums sold, right??) Usually their music is, at best, mediocre. But when Michael Edwards told me to check out his band, I was blown away. Not because it was the best thing I’ve ever heard or that it was something entirely new. No, the band impressed me with how comfortable it feels with itself and the audience. In this episode, I play a song from Genetic Engines’ new EP, Feed My Mind. Please buy it. It’s only four bucks.

I’m also petitioning discerning music lovers to buy Dan Billen’s new EP, Not Alone. Billen is a long-time friend who played bass in The Billions. Since the band broke up, he has quietly sat by as his brother amassed quite a catalog of indie pop. (Truth be known, he and his wife were trying to get their family started, a focus of many of his songs.) Like his best work in The Billions, Not Alone, boasts diverse styles and honest lyrics. Name your price and buy it.

I’m excited to record another episode. It seems like it’s been forever since my last one. I hope you enjoy. (For some reason, WordPress won’t allow me to stream episodes like I used to, so just use the download link at the bottom.)

  1. “Into the Cold” – Genetic Engines (Feed My Mind / independent / 2012)
  2. “When We Come To” – Michael Miller (When We Come To / Shiny Shiny / 2003)
  3. “Flying Backwards” – Doug Gillard (Malamute Jute / Cushion Records / 1998)
  4. “Let a Dreamer Dream” – Dan Billen (Not Alone/ independent / 2012)
  5. “See Right Through Me” – The Bats (Free All the Monsters / Flying Nun / 2011)

Radio Free Raytown – Episode #106 (7/20/12)

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