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Record Reviews

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Strike the Bottom Red: LP
Yes, this is indeed THAT Mentally Ill, the mysterious pack of psychopaths responsible for the brilliant 1979 Gacy’s Place EP. This is a reissue, so far as I can deduce, of an LP they recorded with Albini at the knobs, self-released back in 1999 and didn’t include on the Alternative Tentacles retrospective a few years back. Two songs from aforementioned EP, “Padded Cell” and “Tumor Boy,” are redone here alongside charmingly titled ditties like “Doggie Sex,” “Bathroom Gays,” and “Wrinkled Star,” to name a few, as well as a cover of the Modern Lovers’ “Pablo Picasso.” While the crisp production values temper the immediacy that made their debut so infectious, the band itself more than makes up for it in sheer weirdness, with quasi-choir backup vocals, saxophones, and all kinds of odd shit popping up here and there, all the while keeping things “punk” but approaching that moniker with a sound as inimitable as the Butthole Surfers, No Trend, and like-minded trailblazers. Fuggin’ great, this is. –Jimmy Alvarado (Last Laugh)

848: 7”
The Menthols want to play your party. “848” is a rambler, plodding along in a good way, reminiscent of The Spits’ dickaround stuff. “Hey Hey Hey” is more garagey, rough on the vocals, mild on the rock. Doesn’t blow you away but pretty easy to hum along to. –Speedway Randy (Florida’s Dying)

Miracle Slips: 7”
These guys aren’t too definable—on the last single I thought they were good dick-around rockers like some of the wanking moments of The Spits, but this single is better than the last. “Miracle Slips” is a great rocker, sludging along. “Rats and Insects” is a little more of a meandering garage jam, pretty cool too—more messy. When it gets down to it, if these guys are playing a basement near you, it’s worth driving around to find it. –Speedway Randy (UFO Dictator)

Michigan Works: LP
I tried and tried, but I couldn’t think of a negative thing to say about this record. About thirty-three minutes of heady garage spread across nine tracks on twelve inches of vinyl. It has adrenaline without testosterone and jams without tie-dye. It’s some rad-as-fuck rock’n’roll. This shit kills it. Every note on here is quality, all with a hypnotic allure, all lacking any hint of pretension. Whether you are out on the town, on a drive, or just sitting around, this record will undoubtedly make you think you are much cooler than you are. Five hundred of these exist; you should get one. –Vincent Battilana (UFO Dictator)

Over the Top: CD
If Courtney Love is coherent enough these days to be creeped out by anything, then this CD is sure to give her a bad case of the willies. Now, saying that the mother of little Francis Bean would be creeped out by this band might seem hardly newsworthy since, as pretty much everybody knows, the Mentors creep out almost all sane females. Tipper Gore, circa her PMRC days, might be the most famous example of a female who was profoundly put off her lunch by El Duce and the boys. But what’s bound to unnerve Ms. Love, more than the Mentors’ X-rated titty-clitty rhyming schemes and the oafish Male Chauvinist Pigotry, is the disembodied presence on Over the Top of El Duce himself. For those of you not in the know, El Duce was the original frontman/buffoon/bozo laureate of the Mentors and he cut a figure something along the lines of the Benny Hill of scum punk-metal. He was fat, toadish, and oftentimes drunk off his ass, and his leering pervert persona seemed to be made that much more genuine by virtue of a pair of bugged out eyes provided to him by a case of Grave’s Disease. If you could somehow cross GG Allin with Russ Meyer with a stack of Hustler cartoons, you’d be getting close to classic El Duce territory. Thing is, is that right about the time that El was really enjoying his growing notoriety, something in his head—possibly the alcohol-soaked neurons—made him start shooting his mouth off about how Courtney Love had offered him $50,000 to whack her husband at the time, Kurt Cobain. And it wasn’t long after shooting his mouth off that poor El danced with a moving train on his way home from the liquor store one day and wound up smeared across the railroad tracks like100 proof strawberry preserves. And it wasn’t too long after that, that some of the more cynically-minded among rock’n’roll insiders dared suggest that Courtney Love had Francis Bean lure the drunken, horny blabbermouth onto the tracks and into the path of the speeding locomotive. Whether it really went down that way or not is anyone’s guess. All I know for sure is that if Courtney didn’t have a problem having someone kill a big celebrity like Kurt Cobain, she sure as hell wouldn’t have a problem having someone kill a scurrilous bum like El Duce. Which brings me back to my original point: if Ms. Love really was responsible for doing in El Duce, then the sounds burned into the grooves of Over the Top (the first ever Mentors’ release without El Duce) are likely to provide her with her own ghastly little trip into the Twilight Zone. You see, as Courtney and Francis Bean and everyone knows, El is supposed to be well dead; his decaying meat suit long since converted into an underground Disney World for various microbes, ants, and worms and whatnot. But if you didn’t know any better you’d swear it’s him, the original El Duce, singing on this new record. The official line is, I’m sure, that this “El Rapo” guy supposedly singing these new songs is merely an eerily similar sounding replacement, sorta like how the second Darren was eerily similar to the first Darren back on the old Bewitched TV series. But how do we know that Sickie Wifebeater and Heathen Scum haven’t spent the years since El’s “convenient elimination” honing their Ouija board skills, somehow managing to channel the spirit of their old lead singer from beyond the grave and convincing him to belt out a few more tunes? I have been lucky enough to have had several drunken phone conversations with Sickie and I can tell you that he is something of a necromancer and he is possessed of certain dark and extra-mundane skills beyond those he displays on the electrified guitar. But if it really is the recorded sounds of El broadcasting from the Great Beyond, it would seem that the one thing that doesn’t transfer all that well from the one realm to the other is his trademark sense of humor. I guess, considering all the gunk like ether and ectoplasm that can clog up inter-worldly transmissions, it’s little surprise something might get lost along the way. It’s just too bad that it was his inimitable stupid/clever sense of humor. The truth is: any one of the tracks on this disc could easily be slipped into a mix of old Mentors’ tunes without anyone noticing—they are that true to the classic Mentor sound. And the voice truly sounds like El Duce, whether it’s piped in from some netherworld or just this new “El Darren” guy. But the twisted porno booth humor just isn’t as twisted as when El was fully animated in his boozy flesh suit. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of amusing bits throughout Over the Top. Like the song “Inches of Three,” for example, my personal favorite among the crop of new songs. And any way you cut it, OTT is leagues above the flatulent dreck being pumped out by some uninspired Mentors-wannabe like Anal Blast. This really is a very solid comeback effort and a damn good album to boot. In fact, it’s a lot better than I’m probably making it sound here in this review. I guess I’m just realizing how much I miss ol’ Eldon Hoke. Having a band with El Duce as your frontman is definitely an example of catching white lightning in a bottle. This CD is proof of that. –aphid (Mentors, www.churchofelduce.com)

Oblivion Train: 7"
The blurb on the back says the recordings here date from 1977 and, if true, it’s pretty clear the Mentors were well entrenched in their later shtick very early on—“Oblivion Train,” an ode to drinkin’, is similar in style to their later hit “Get Up and Die,” while the flip, “Cornshucker,” regales with tales of shenanigans in a brothel. Sound is very-good-demo quality, the front cover looks like they were aiming for a “Sub Pop Singles Club” look, and nice pics of the boys (including one of a comparatively thin El Duce) as fresh-faced degenerates grace the back. This is definitely a must for any fan. –Jimmy Alvarado (Stool Sample)

You Axed for It: LP and 7”

Before I get to heaping steaming superlatives on the timely re-issue of this punk-metal classic, there is some business I need to take care of first. Along with a sticker announcing that this is a limited edition pressed in “pink beef curtain” vinyl, the shrink wrap of this record is also festooned with another sticker touting You Axed For It as being “rape rock at its finest.” The thing is, the label “Rape Rock” not only misses the point, but it just isn’t funny. And if you’re somehow listening to and enjoying the Mentors without humor being one of the main motivating factors for doing so, then you are quite likely a dim and possibly dangerous fuckwit who should avoid ever interacting with women, children and animals. It was their lewd humor and depraved lack of decorum that gave the Mentors the stubby, stinking pig legs that have carried them through the years to a place of relevance here in 2010, not any attempt to be perceived as a real sociopathic threat.

The only way the label “Rape Rock” would be funny would be if it originally came out of the mouth of an aghast listener, someone along the lines of a Tipper Gore or a Mr. Rogers. Or, in contemporary terms, a Glenn Beck. Now, I admit that there is a song on this record called “Sleep Bandits”that might just be Rohypnol inspired. But my guess would be that if the Mentors ever played around with date rape drugs, it was for their own trashy high and was not used as a tool of a genuine sexual predator. I’m not sure about Sicky or Dr. Scum, but I seriously doubt that El Duce—the late lyricist and soused figurehead of the Mentors—could’ve even managed to sift through his own alcoholic haze enough to rape an inflatable sex doll, much less a living human woman, what with that drooping, booze-filled blubber stick of his. El Duce’s real life “rape” victims, I suspect, were sinks, tubs, and toilet bowls. Truth be told, “Rape Rock” is a label much more appropriate to GG Allin than the Mentors. If anything, the Mentors are more Peeping-Tom Rock than Rape Rock.

Now that I’ve gotten that all straightened out, another mistake has always been to write off the Mentors as mere fatuous oafs laying in puddles of their own filth and laughing at their own farts. As oafish as their sexual slapstick was, Duce was something of a savant, possessed of a sophomoric cleverness that was leagues above that of the lowly jerk-off booth wino he might’ve appeared to be. El Duce was the Shel Silverstein of drunken smut. All you need to do is read the lyrics of songs like “Golden Showers” and “Sandwich of Love” to see that there was a bozo poet laureate behind the bleary frog eyes, lecherous mug, and swinish behavior. And You Axed For It shows El Duce at has poetic best, infamously rhyming “anal vapor” and “toilet paper,” among others. And as if pink beef curtain vinyl wasn’t enough, this re-issue includes a special 7” record containing two never-before-released tracks recorded in Dr. Scum’s basement in 1977. So how can you go wrong? But you better rush out and grab one of these quick because it’s apparently a very limited edition of only 500. My guess is that these filthy little treasures are going to get gobbled up pretty quickly, simply because You Axed for It captures the mighty Mentors at the absolute summit—and nadir—of their prurient, pull-my-finger powers. This is Peeping-Tom Rock at its finest. Screw social networking, social leprosy is where it’s at! –aphid (Stool Sample)

Hold on Dodge: 7"
At first, I swore I’d seen this band play a few songs live once, thinking it was some alright, technical “scenester” by way of mid-era Propaghandi stuff that I wasn’t into. So, I put on the record, and it’s nothing like that. First impression was, “Oh, this has a bit of twang to it, not unlike The Sidekicks.” Then, as it plays on, I thought, “This is like a more punk Weakerthans.” And I did enjoy it! –Joe Evans III (Red Scare)

A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology: CD
This wasn’t at all what I was expecting from a Go-Kart release, but I was mighty pleased after a few listens. The Menzingers have a sound that blends good old-fashioned punkness with the better aspects of (dare I say it?) mainstream alternative. I’m not entirely sure how that last sentence should be understood, but that’s what’s in my head. Some fast stuff here, some anthemic, and some slow; some sweet stuff, some bitter, and the band has upped the ante on the Clash’s “Straight to Hell.” This version is loud, loud, loud, and bitter in the way of the complete desperation after the cops kill your dog is bitter. I like this record. –The Lord Kveldulfr (Go-Kart)

Chamberlain Waits: CD
I’m perplexed. Thought I wasn’t going to like the previous 7”, and enjoyed the heck out of it. So I was psyched to get this in my review pile, but it underwhelmed me. With the 7”, I thought they sounded like a rougher-around-the-edges Weakerthans, but it’s been polished away this time. Now it just reminds of the kind of band you like when you’ve got an e-mail address like “XmynameX at something dot com.” Granted, my expectations were pretty high, though, so I’ll still revisit it down the line. –Joe Evans III (Red Scare, redscare.net)

Chamberlin Awaits: CD
It seemed like certain quarters were pushing these guys so hard as the best thing going right now in the world of punk that I was kind of turned off from them for a while. Have I come around to thinking the Menzingers are the saviors of modern punk? No. I don’t think this would make even my top five albums of the year so far (although, maybe the upper reaches of my top ten). But, I do give it to these guys that they are a pretty damn good band. First off, the main singer (is it Tom May or Greg Barnett?) has a pretty distinct voice. It’s kind of an over-enunciated mush mouth that’s always on the verge of breaking into a scream. Musically, the band is tight in a Lawrence Arms / Smoke Or Fire type way that plays up melody over aggression. The song “Time Tables” is what nudges this over the bar for me. It’s quite an excellent song about what may or may not have been an old fling. That would probably make it onto my 2010 highlight reel. “Rivalries,” too, is quite a charmer of a ditty. Not everything is that strong on here for me, but to look past the hype, this is a pretty solid release. I’ll probably actually want to listen to the record after this review is done, which is a good enough accomplishment for me. –Adrian (Red Scare)

”The Obituaries” b/w “Burn after Writing”: 7”
The two songs on this 7” are both on the band’s Epitaph debut, On the Impossible Past. So if you already have that record, you might pass on this one. But if you are a record collector, it’s cool to have these two tracks on 7” format. “The Obituaries” contains powerful drums and melodic guitar leads, along with strong vocals singing about despair. “Burn after Writing” is a catchier tune, with dual vocals throughout the track. This is definitely a nice little piece of vinyl to add to your collection. –Nighthawk (Red Scare)

The Very Best of…: CD
Listening to Men’s Recovery Project is like watching a couple of thalidomide babies poop on themselves and then give the poop funny names. It’s out of the ordinary, sure, but that doesn’t make it enjoyable. But hey, at least you don’t have to applaud. –Josh (5RC)

At the Top of the Bottom: CD
Wow. The best record that I’ve heard this year. Pure rock‘n’roll with strong elements of the garage. This is one of those rarities in which a band is able to take a classic format—the three chord tune with lots of vocal harmony—and make it sound fresh and inventive at all times. Strong hints of very early Aerosmith and the legends of the late '50s, but at no point does this record sound rehashed. While the Meows may be happily doffing their caps to such predecessors, they’ve come up with something that is completely their own. –The Lord Kveldulfr (No Tomorrow)

(Strange Songs) In the Dark: 12"
If life has taught me anything at this point, it is that it’s not always a great idea to stick to just one regiment or ideal. Ten years ago, I’m pretty sure that I would steer clear of anything that wasn’t punk, thrash, or grindcore. But, of course, time changes people and eventually my palate was cleansed enough for me to give other sounds a fair chance. Merchandise is definitely not what I would expect from a member of Cult Ritual—a band that very quickly became influential and sought after in the hardcore punk scene. With Merchandise, you’re treated to the influence of acquired tastes such as ‘80s shoegaze and noise pop a la Jesus And Mary Chain or My Bloody Valentine. If you’re a die-hard “give it to me short, fast, and loud” type, then this record isn’t for you. Those of you with a broader scope for great music might end up as pleasantly surprised as I was. –Juan Espinosa (Katorga Works / Drugged Conscious)

School Yard: 7” single
Very poppy dance music here. I wouldn’t be surprised if I heard this in a club. It has mass appeal. I like synth music quite a bit, but this is too fluffy for me. The flipside, “Graveyard,” is a droner that eventually deteriorates into a noisy mess. Nothing worth a second listen. –Matt Average (Katorga Works, katorgaworks@gmail.com)

Children of Desire: LP

This record plays as if it were written, recorded, and developed strictly for the mid-’80s: back when popular music was actually good. It should go without saying, but mainstream modern pop is just plain awful. Not one single artist or band is doing anything worth a shit. Actual talent seems to have skipped several eras (Auto tune? Whatever happened to singing because you can?). Leave it to two Floridian twenty-somethings to fuse the aesthetic of minimalist post punk and new wave with the emotional crooning of Morrissey to remind us of a time when this sort of music was vibrant and innovative. Talent can’t be bought. It isn’t something you sign up for. Merchandise are absolute geniuses and make songwriting seem easy.

–Juan Espinosa (Katorga Works, katorgaworks.bigcartel.com)

Totale Nite: CD/LP
Totale Nite is another shorter release from the Tampa, Florida, band Merchandise, with five songs in thirty-three minutes, and none of them come in at over ten minutes, unlike Children of Desire (the band’s last album), whose two best tracks both broke that mark. The first track on this album, “Who Are You,” starts with a harmonica, reminiscent of “Hand in Glove” by The Smiths. Remember how it seemed so wrong for what you thought you knew of the band (harmonicas only work for country music and bluegrass, right?). But like “Hand in Glove,” when you think about it, the harmonica works really well. The second song, “Anxiety’s Door,” has the band back in their 1980s Brit-pop groove, with an infectious beat and Carson Cox’s great Ian Curtis-esque vocals. “I’ll Be Gone” is a more morose piece with electric guitar droning out before the introduction of acoustic guitar and cool synths. The title track is the longest on the album at just over nine minutes. It starts with what seems like a reprise of “I’ll Be Gone” before suddenly stopping and shifting gears into a marching beat, guitar, and saxophone. Perhaps it’s the inability of the saxophone to truly complement the song, but things never seem to jive and it sounds as though the song is always about to fall apart. Closing out the album is “Winter’s Dream,” something that sounds as though it was taken from a Tears For Fears or Depeche Mode album. It’s slow and morose, but like some of the other tracks on Totale Nite, it has this one element (in this case an off-beat progression on the synths) that doesn’t jive with the rest of the production of the track. Merchandise has certainly shown themselves to be a band that doesn’t really care much about conventional styles (they’re a bunch of hardcore punks playing ‘80s-influenced Brit-pop and releasing it on tiny labels when they’ve had offers from some of the bigger indies), so perhaps they said, “Yeah, this saxophone doesn’t quite fit,” or “This synth riff doesn’t make things smooth, but who gives a shit?” However, it’s really unfortunate to hear songs not gel after Children of Desire, which was one of my favorite albums from 2012. I really hope this is just a misstep on their musical path. –Kurt Morris (Night People)

Split: LP
A musically diverse three-way split featuring some of underground music’s most intriguing and hardworking acts. First up is Florida’s Merchandise who, it seems, have been unrelentingly releasing records and touring the country since their inception. “No You and Me” glistens with Jesus And Mary Chain synth melodies while vocalist Carson Cox’s Moz-esque harmonies pull you in like the gravitational pull on the moon and keep you blissfully in place for the duration of their two songs. Destruction Unit from Arizona are new to me in the sense that I’ve seen and / or heard of these cats for some time but never got around to listening to anything by them. Two tracks of thundering, guitar-heavy, mid-paced punk with just a touch of rock’n’roll snarl. 400 Blows’ explosiveness collides with the darkness of the Damned or Sisters Of Mercy. Rhythmic, loud, and above average use of guitar effect pedals solidifies their two entries as winners. Washington’s Milk Music, I must say, seem to redefine themselves with every subsequent release, though I’m not quite sure it’s a good thing. The potential for an energetic and engaging listen on the opening track “Effigy” soon gives way to a listless, endless jam but, thankfully, the second track, “Thrashing in the Unknown,” is a little more like the Dinosaur Jr.-loving Milk Music I’m more familiar with. Their final offering is a cover of Johnny Thunder’s “You Can’t Put Your Arms around a Memory,” and I really hate to admit this but Guns N’ Roses probably did a better job with their version on The Spaghetti Incident? I’m on my second spin of this disc and even though the Milk Music tracks are destined to be not my favorite of theirs, I have to admit that the listening experience as a whole only seems to get better and better. –Juan Espinosa (540)

Endless Beach: CD
Woweee cha-cha-cha, The Mercury Four perfectly replicate the classic surf sounds of the early ‘60s. And they do it so meticulously well, I had the sudden urge to fill my bathtub full of lukewarm water; added a couple of cups of sodium chloride for that salty oceanic effect; cranked the central heat up to a balmy eighty-five degrees while placing a box-fan nearby and setting it on full-speed to create a nicely blended tropical breeze; quickly squirmed outta my battery-heated long-johns and slipped into a pair of brightly colored floral-splattered knee-length shorts; climbed into the tub and stood there with both legs braced and bent at the knees in the classic cowabunga stance while wildly flailing my arms in a hilarious attempt to balance myself on an invisible surfboard beneath my water-shriveled feet. I’m suddenly crestin’ on an imaginary twelve-foot wave that arose outta nowhere and overwhelmed me with such raging full-strength fury, I was forced to bail headfirst into the cold, uninviting tile of the bathroom floor. Yep, so much for pretend-surfin’ in a cramped frigid lavatory in the dead of winter! But the delightfully fun and sunny sounds of The Mercury Four will inspire a person to take such drastic measures for a bit of make-believe sandy-footed frolicking no matter what time of year it is! The hot-doggin’ killer-thriller keyboards, Herman Munster booty-twistin’ guitar fieriness, and roarin’ tidal wave’s crash of bass and drum interaction just can’t be beat. It’s all-at-once jubilant, youthful, and wild, wild, wild! Even the lil’ hula-girl statues on my stereo speakers were furiously shakin’ their backsides silly to this upbeat bundle of tropical thunder! Indeed, it’s a pleasurable spirit-rousing dose of tempestuous sonic paradise. –Roger Moser Jr. (Mercury Four)

Split: 7"
Boy, I think I’m supposed to like this, but it’s just not clicking. Both bands are English and play swelling melodic punk, the likes of North Lincoln, Small Brown Bike, and early period Hot Water Music. Mercury Lounge: add some metallic guitars into the equation, and they remind me of Strung Out and second-tier Fat stuff from the late ‘90s. It seems heartfelt, but sounds too closely tied to a metronome and a click track for me to hear juice bursting when it gets squeezed. The Dauntless Elite: have a great name, have songs with many parts—one with a very long title—and seem very earnest, too, but I’m just getting bored listening to the record. It feels too labored. I’m convinced they’re convinced, but I’m just not interested. Comes in a heavy gauge plastic sleeve. –Todd Taylor (Yo-Yo)

The Blue Eyed Model: CD
Oh, those zany art students! This is a story of our protagonist, Gregor, looking for companionship and the troubles that ensue. This is told through a wonderfully enunciative storyteller and instrumental segments. There is also a beautifully colored comic storybook in the liner notes. This is fantastic. I’m not sure how often I’ll listen to it, but, as a concept and for a listen or two, I’m impressed. –Megan Pants (Lujo)

Bloodlove: CD
So, I read a bio on this band and I’m kind of turned off without actually hearing them. Former members of Lars Frederiksen’s Bastards and Exene Cervenka’s Original Sinners and, if I remember what I read, a member of the Transplants. It doesn’t exactly excite me with my current tastes. But, this band collectively makes music that I actually do like. They play a brand of music that has strong hints of street punk that also has the ambient leaning of death rock. But to add some more descriptions, they also remind me of One Man Army meets more of the melodic Killing Joke stuff. I really like that they are not over-polished like My Chemical Romance, a band with the look but not the sound. This band has the sound but not the look. Looking at the band photos, they could be any generic melodicore band on the Warped Tour. But music is what it’s all about. It’s funny when I’m so ready to dismiss a release before listening: that there are a few bands out of thousands that can make me take notice. –Donofthedead (Hellcat)

And to Become One: Split CD
Sometimes people start bands because they are good and care about the music they’re making. Other times, it appears to be a sweet showcase for them to show off their well-rehearsed scowls and poses in their perfect makeup and hair. But dudes, there’s this thing called the internet that you can do that on. Sure, you might not get as many friend requests, but for people like myself who have to listen to this drivel, please consider it. And the album title offends what little sensibility I have left. –Megan Pants (I Scream)

Self-Titled: CD
It always throws me for a loop that when an obscure but totally kickass band like the Weird Lovemakers has somehow entered the collective subconscious. I’d bet you a pound of gummi worms that the Mercy Killers, who are from New York and just released this disc, have never heard The Weird Lovemakers’ Electric Chump, which was released the better part of a decade ago in Tucson. I doubt that the Mercy Killers’ lead vocalist knows that he sounds almost exactly like Greg Pettix. But the similarities are uncanny. To think that they came to the same musical conclusions as the Lovemakers makes me smile. The Mercy Killers have that close-to-strangulated vocals and play not-too-fancy, but wonderfully effective punk rock that’s long on charm and short on trying to convince you that listening to them is in any way, shape, or form is cool. (It is, but in a way where you’ll reap the rewards of good music and little else. As it should be, in my humble opinion.) The only main difference between the Mercy Killers and the Lovemakers is the weirdness-o-meter is kept in check. There isn’t a ranchero song like “En Busca Dela Superfucie,” but if you put this on and said, “Look what I found. Weird Lovemakers demos!” I’d bet you another bag of gummi worms that you’d fool most people. I’ll be playing this a lot. –Todd Taylor (The Mercy Killers, 15 Grandview Trail, Monroe, NY 10950)

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