Category Archives: digital download

Harry Nilsson • Losst and Founnd [CD, LP]

HARRY NILSSON died of a heart attack twenty-five years ago. That would seem to explain why it took so long to finish Losst and Founnd, the “new” album from pop’s coolest singer. But there’s almost always more to the story than the obvious explanation, especially with Harry. And so, here we are in 2019 with a finished version of the album he was working on when he passed away in 1994 and it’s just about everything you’d want out of a Nilsson record.

Why’d it take so long to find Losst and Founnd? It’s apparently a convoluted enough story that there’s a four part podcast series dedicated to it. I don’t have time to sift through that now, so take it from me, it doesn’t really matter. This is a new Nilsson record! As it’s sung on the title track, “Losst and Found, what a miracle!”

From the humor that is uniquely Harry’s on “U.C.L.A.,” to the die-hard fandom of “Yo Dodger Blue,” to his interpretations of Yoko Ono’s “Listen, The Snow Is Falling” and Jimmy Webb’s beautiful-yet-funny “What Does a Woman See in a Man,” this album’s completion means there’s one more really good Nilsson record (or CD) to have on your shelf. Yes, by now his voice wasn’t the instrument it once was – but he could still sing, and in fact the gruff in his voice quite suits the material. Sorta like how some of Johnny Cash’s American Recordings tracks (such as “Hurt,” the cover of Nine Inch Nails) benefited from the maturity and experience that only an old guy could emote. The arrangements, too, are of a similar quality level to what Harry accomplished with Richard Perry back in the early ’70s.

You may not go to Losst and Founnd as often as you do Nilsson Schmilsson or Son of Schmilsson, but it’s right up there with Pussy Cats and some of Harry’s other greats. Despite its twenty-five year incubation, it was really worth the wait. Kudos to Omnivore Recordings and producer Mark Hudson for allowing it to finally hatch.

3/5 (Omnivore Recordings OVCD-346, 2019)

 

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The Muffs • No Holiday [CD, LP, DD]

When THE MUFFS’ lead singer Kim Shattuck died a few weeks ago, it was a sad day for alternative rock. On the one hand, it was great that the band were able to record one last, solid album before their leader passed away, but on the other, a bummer that their new No Holiday album would be viewed and reviewed with that event in mind.

Unlike many past Muffs releases, No Holiday is a mix of multiple indie rock strains, from the spare punk rock style they’re known for (like “Down Down Down,” “Pollyanna” and the slower “Earth Below Me”) to more poppy and even melancholy ditties like “The Best” and “A Lovely Day Boo Hoo.” I really dig “Lucky Charm” and “You Talk and You Talk,” too, with the lines “I am tired of you/and your ugliness, too/and I hear you can talk until forever.” In fact, there are 18 songs to choose from here, from really short (as in 23 seconds!) to not-as-short (face it: The Muffs don’t have “extended jam” in their vocab, which is a plus), but generally three minutes or less. Apparently, Shattuck and the boys picked out the songs from a batch of unused songs that go back as far as 1991 – basically the lifespan of the band – and luckily, these songs don’t sound like sloppy seconds. Kim said the songs had only been weeded out before to make for “super concise albums.”

No Holiday is still pretty concise and is available on CD and 2LP vinyl (with a laser-etched side four), and makes an excellent bookend to The Muffs’ nearly three decades creating some of the most uncomplicated, enjoyable pop-punk around. You’ll want to pick this one up, yup, and given that the band has now disbanded for the final time, hope that Omnivore or somebody continues reissuing their albums and maybe puts out a career-spanning comp. RIP Kim Shattuck!

3.5/5 (Omnivore OVCD-354, 2019)

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Linda McCartney • Wide Prairie [LP, CD, DD]

Lots of insults have been lobbed at LINDA McCARTNEY since the day she entered husband Paul’s life. “She broke up The Beatles,” “she can’t sing,” “she’s a bleedin’ vegetarian,” etc. This reissue of the posthumous compilation Wide Prairie may not go far in turning that tide, but it will – at the very least – go a ways to helping the Macca nerds of the world fatten up their collections a little more.

This 16-track album was first released in 1998, and 21 years later it’s still an interesting yet slightly troublesome undertaking. There’s a number of great songs here, including “Seaside Woman” (recorded in ’72-’73 during Wings’ Red Rose Speedway sessions), “Cook of the House” (which first appeared on Wings at the Speed of Sound in ’76) and album closer “Appaloosa,” but the rest of the material is cute yet not crucial. A few songs are just not good, like “The White Coated Man,” a screed against lab testing of animals (not a bad cause, mind you) and the bulk of the rest is just fair-to-middling. I do like “I Got Up” and “The Light Comes from Within,” both dust-yourself-off-and-get-back-up-on-the-horse ditties, and “B-Side to Seaside” (another previously released track, the [ahem] B-side to “Seaside Woman”), but at 16 tracks this album is a handful of tracks too many. It’s highly likely that this compilation consists of every single track Linda finished before her death, six months before Paulie first put out this collection.

Wide Prairie has a nice lightness to it, with humor abounding, and some nice cover versions (“Mister Sandman,” “Poison Ivy”), too. You even get two tracks that were co-produced by reggae legend Lee Perry (reggae is actually part of the foundation of this elpee)! Whether you care for Linda McCartney’s girlish singing (flawed but fun) or not, it’s not a bad record at all. It’s just not that great. As for the Macca collectors out there, they’ll want the milk/blue vinyl limited edition (may already be sold out), but there’s also a regular black vinyl version and a compact disc. However, there are no more tracks on this reissue than there were on the ’98 release, so you’re gonna have to be an accomplished aficionado to want to pick this version up.

2.5/5 (Capitol 7728542, 1998/2019)

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Hank Williams • The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings [CD, DD]

If you died as long ago as HANK WILLIAMS did – and especially if people still care about the music you made – there’ll likely be a boatload of reissues in your wake. The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings is one such release, it being a repackage/ remastering of something that already came out at least once during the CD era (a two disc release from 1993). These were “live” shows recorded in 1949 for dispersal to various radio stations and sponsored by anybody willing to pony up the dough, arriving on big 16″ transcription discs that the stations would play on the air along with commercials for that sponsor’s products. (It’s a long story, recounted in this package’s booklet, but the only taker for Williams’ show was Hadacol, a patent medicine made with a liberal dose of alcohol that supposedly cured all kinds of ills; see “snake oil.”)

BMG’s new corralling of this material is said to be complete, and by that measurement there are eight fifteen-minute programs consisting of Hank Williams and his Drifting Cowboys running through many of his hits, one of them twice (“Lovesick Blues”), while also running through the show’s opening and closing themes eight different times (“Happy Rovin’ Cowboy” and “Sally Goodin”)! Emcee Grant Turner introduces each show with a peppy little speech, followed by Hank himself sounding humble and contrite as he says hello and launches into the group’s first song (“A Mansion on the Hill,” for instance, “Lost Highway” or “Wedding Bells”), and then into a fiddle instrumental spotlighting Drifting Cowboy Jerry Rivers, then a few more songs and the aforementioned closer. These versions of the songs don’t seem very different from Williams’s late ’40s master studio takes of them, and a number of his bigger songs are here, but pretty much every song on this set was also recorded by the man for MGM Records (his original label). The patter between Hank and Grant is very homey and corny, yet still kind of entertaining seventy years on.

And then there’s Hank’s wife, Audrey Williams. Well, what can you say about Audrey? You could say she was reasonably good lookin’, and you could say – if you know your Hank history – that she was also a right pain in the ass. After listening to the first half of The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings, you’ll also likely say the woman couldn’t have carried a tune if it had a handle on it. Miss Audrey appears on the first four shows (the quad that make up CD1), bringing her wavering, quavering vocals to four songs either with or without Hank. I can say this: at least on the ones she sings with her husband her voice is covered over enough to make it only a minor nuisance. On the others, well, friend, she’s on her own so you’re on yer own.

The good news, folks, is that the sound quality here is superb. Considering the songs on The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings were preserved (if you can call it that) on old transcription discs, the possibility of dicey-sounding audio was great, and so it’s a pleasure to report that the mastering here is excellent, with nary a pop or click in earshot and the entire mono spectrum clear and rich. The pure country music Hank and his Drifting Cowboys made comes through quite nicely, and that’s one of the reasons these recordings still matter after so many years. Thankfully, they sound good enough to listen to more than once – and that ought to add to, if not your health, then at least your happiness.

3/5 (BMG Rights Management 538470942, 2019)

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Ernie Kovacs • The Ernie Kovacs Album (Centennial Edition) [CD, DD]

I don’t often write about comedy here at NuDisc, but when I do, it’s pretty much always about ERNIE KOVACS. That’s because this is the only comedy record I’ve ever covered on this site. The Ernie Kovacs Album is an artifact from a different era – 1950s recordings first released in 1977  – a time when people had longer attention spans and weren’t constantly bombarded by media or interrupted by continual notifications of the most insubstantial kind by their smartphones and other electronic gadgets. This album is full of the kind of comedy that requires an unclogged mind, the kind you won’t find on TV or streaming services. The kind of comedy you might have to repeat a few times before you get it.

For those unfamiliar with Ernie Kovacs, he was “an American comedian, actor and writer” whose comedy produced for radio and television influenced many of the greats that are still with us today. Kovacs’ skits and bits took advantage of whatever the medium – his radio pieces were audio puzzles best suited for radio, while his television pieces were largely based on sight gags and visual puns. Regardless of the form, Ernie’s comedy ranged from the incredibly obvious (especially his TV stuff) to the difficult to digest. Take for instance this album’s opener, “Tom Swift,” a lengthy bit read as a radio news story. Its subtle humor is not the kind of laugh riot you might expect on a comedy record. I wonder how much of the humor’s lost to us today because we didn’t grow up in the slower pace of the ’50s or are familiar with many of the references made. On the other hand, “Albert Gridley” is a short bit where an interviewer has to coach his interviewee on the details of the subject being covered (though the story is supposedly “etched in [the] memory” of the guy being interviewed). This one’s easy to get. So is “Droongo,” a lengthy description of how to play a game that is clearly way more complicated than it must be fun. You definitely have to be willing to adjust your intake valve to handle the slower, subtler pace of Kovacs’ humor in order to appreciate his greatness. Many will find his television bits easier to get since they’re presented in both audio and visual form. But there’s no denying that Ernie Kovacs was one of the greats, and it’s quite commendable that Omnivore continues to give us more and more Ernie. (They’ve also released a Christmas record and an entire LP devoted to Kovacs’ character, Percy Dovetonsils, both as limited Record Store Day releases.)

This release of The Ernie Kovacs Album, a Grammy-nominated record being issued on compact disc for the first time, contains a handful of bonus tracks, as well as new and original liner notes. 2019 being the 100th anniversary of Kovacs’ birth, this reissue is part of a centennial celebration that has included tributes by the Library of Congress and his hometown of Trenton, New Jersey. One thing is for certain: Ernie Kovacs’ kind will likely never be replicated or conceived.

3.5/5 (Ominvore OVCD-322, 2019)

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Chip & Tony Kinman • Sounds Like Music [CD, DD]

Here’s a cool place to start your appreciation of the Brothers Kinman. Sounds Like Music is a collection of tunes CHIP & TONY KINMAN created over the course of 40-odd years fronting bands like The Dils, Rank and File and Blackbird. I was a big fan of the first two back in the day and saw the third perform live once upon a time. Indeed, The Dils were a seminal if somewhat unsung L.A. punk band, and Rank and File was among the first Americana bands of the early ’80s. Their final incarnation as Cowboy Nation is also represented, and so throughout the 22 cuts here you get a good idea of what made each band tick.

There are big stylistic differences between the four acts on this disc of previously unreleased music, but the glue that really holds it all together is the blend of the Kinmans’ voices. Chip’s was the higher, sweeter voice while Tony contributed the deep, soulful one. The combination recalls the great male sibling voices of the past (the Louvin, Delmore and Everly Brothers, for instance), though the Kinmans weren’t as precise. No matter, though, because what Chip & Tony lacked in accuracy they more than made up for with their clever and catchy tunes. Whether it was the cowpunk of Rank and File’s “Amanda Ruth” and “Lucky Day” (presented here in alternate versions from the ones that made the band’s albums), the punk rock of “Folks Say Go” and “Rank and File” (in a way-more-punk version than the country-ish one we‘re all familiar with) or the industrial-flavored Blackbird material, the “real style” of Chip & Tony always shone through.

To be fair, many of the songs on Sounds Like Music are early enough in their development that the term “demo” is quite fitting. On the other hand, the prototype versions of their better known songs are quite enjoyable. This disc won’t replace any of your Dils, R&F and Blackbird records and CDs, but it’ll certainly sit quite nicely among your collection. As there is no known or official compilation of the bros’ output (yet; perhaps that’s in the pipeline – please!), this is a good place to, errrr, join the rank(s) of Kinman fans. I’m sure Tony, who passed away last year, and Chip would be glad to welcome you to the club.

3/5 (Omnivore OVCD-334, 2019)

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Wreckless Eric • Transience [LP, CD]

Our boy WRECKLESS ERIC is on a tear with this, his second album in a year. Transience is its name and “if you think that what you see is what you get / you haven’t seen the half of it yet.”

Out on his own Southern Domestic label, this lo-fi release is a worthy sequel to last year’s killer Construction Time & Demolition. On that album Eric and his conspirators laid down practically off-the-cuff recordings of the man’s musings about where he came from, where he’s been to and where he was then at. Transience (“the state of lasting only for a short time”) finds Wreckless Eric doing the same, and still trying to shake off the adjectivity of his stage name – something he apparently has been working on for a long time. Yet, the very fact that the cuts on these two albums have such a ramshackle (but riveting) feel make the task of trying to shake the stage name’s burden a relatively unsuccessful venture. Luckily, no one picking up one of his albums is going to give a shit about whether he’s now or has ever been wreckless. People new to his stuff will only wonder slightly about where the name came from, and those of us who remember “Whole Wide World” and “Semaphore Signals” (among others) are fine with it. Seriously, Eric: who cares? We love the semi-shoddiness of your albums, your quirky wit and cynical view of (the whole wide) world. Transience contains sarcastic songs like “Creepy People (In the Middle of the Night)” where Eric talks about having a predilection for suffering and the drag of “taking it up the ass” (figuratively), “The Half of It,” which hooks into subject matter first sung about by Ray Davies of The Kinks and Eric’s contemporary (and former Stiff Records label-mate) Nick Lowe, and six more tunes that show he’s still… if not wreckless, definitely wry and feckless. And yet, he’s still capable of writing engaging songs about whatever strikes him: tiny houses, dead end streets (hello again, Kinks), indelible stains, whatever.

Working with Wreckless Eric this time are Steve Goulding (of The Rumour) on drums, amour Amy Rigby on piano and backing vocals, Cheap Trick’s Tom Petersson on the bass and Alexander Turnquist on 12-string. Transience has a full sounding, freckles ’n’ all vibe, with thick low end and raw guitar and organ that make for a fulfilling listen. I’m really digging his latest work and hope he not only tours the US again (saw him last year in Seattle), but maybe even with a full band. But whether he’s solo or accompanied, Wreckless Eric’s music is definitely worth delving into, if not devouring completely.

4/5 (Southern Domestic SD 008, 2019)

 

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Paul McCartney • Egypt Station [LP, CD]

It’s a given that I’d have both vinyl and CD copies of PAUL McCARTNEY’s new album, Egypt Station, on its release date, because it’s no secret that I hold Macca in the highest regard and have for most of my life. (Visions of “Junior’s Farm” on Apple playing over and over, ’74, or the wall-size Wings poster hung up in my room, flood my brain.) I’ll admit, from the late ’80s into the ’00s I let my fandom slip, but that just happens when you’ve been with a musician or band for decades. Thing is, I initially missed some great McCartney albums then (hello, Flaming Pie!), and once I realized that there are few indispensable records in the man’s canon, I retraced my steps and picked up the ones I missed. This one, his first new work since 2013’s excellent, ahem, New, is quite a good one.

Obviously, at this point in history, there are few who don’t know Paul McCartney by name and probably fewer who haven’t at least heard half a dozen of his songs (especially with The Beatles) countless times. Then again: I stop in my local Barnes & Noble on release day (9/7/2018) to buy the exclusive 2LP red vinyl version they’re selling, one hour after they opened, and they were already sold out. Dang. So the lady at the help desk offers to find me one at another local B&N, which was nice, and she makes the call and says, “Do you have any more copies of the Paul McCarthy Egypt Station vinyl?” I correct her: “Paul McCartney.” She says on the phone, “Yes, the red vinyl Paul McCarthy album.” I think to myself, you’re older than me and you don’t know how to say this guy’s name?? She does secure me a copy, though, so I try not to dwell on this. Next, I go to my local Target because their exclusive CD has two bonus tracks that aren’t on the vinyl or the standard compact disc version. They have plenty of copies and I exit happy.

But there’s always the nagging feeling that I’m gonna be let down. This guy has put out so many absolutely brilliant records, for as long as I’ve been alive, that he can’t possibly top Band on the Run or Ram or “Girls School” or… and on and on. So I have to accept where the man is at 76 (76!), try to remove the new release from the grand historical context it falls in, breathe, and then insert the disc or plop the record down and hang on.

I’m happy to report that Egypt Station is another quite good McCartney album. It’s neither mired in Beatles-era harmonies and descending chord progressions, nor sadly soaked in the sounds of today (autotune, etc.). What’s extra cool about this one is that, though it’s not a concept album, it does have a cohesiveness that New lacked. Where that 2013 release had some excellent songs (“Save Me,” “Queenie Eye”), it felt a little flat as an album. Here we have great songs peppered throughout a lengthy opus that plays extremely well. Of course some songs are kind of forgettable, but it is a long album. And, again: there’s nearly no way to hear anything McCartney does without subconsciously comparing it to everything else he did. Egypt Station’s first “singles” (released online but with no physical counterpart) seemed just okay on their own, but when you hear “Come on to Me,” “I Don’t Know” and “Fuh You” together on the album with “Confidante,” the epic “Despite Repeated Warnings” and “Hunt You Down,” there’s a much stronger case for McCartney to keep putting out new music as long as he can.

Now, there are multiple formats of Egypt Station to consider. And you know I did! I went with the two detailed above to get the most songs, and yeah, because I like colored vinyl. (UK readers, that same Target version is available at HMV where you live.) There is also a 2LP, 2 colors vinyl version with deluxe packaging (accordion sleeve) available via McCartney’s web site, standard double black vinyl, deluxe 2LP and CD (available everywhere), and an upcoming “super deluxe box set” that hasn’t been finalized yet. (And digital download at all the usual sites.) I guess what you pick depends on how big/gullible of a fan you are. You know where I stand in that spectrum!

3.5/5 (Capitol B002874402 [Target CD], B002874601 [Barnes & Noble 2LP])

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Wreckless Eric • Construction Time & Demolition [CD, LP, DD]

“All your records are shit, except maybe one…” So goes one of the lines in a song on the new album from WRECKLESS ERIC, Construction Time & Demolition. If you were around in the late ’70s you might remember a few of Eric’s releases on Stiff Records, home then to names like Elvis Costello, The Damned and Nick Lowe. Or maybe you’ve heard the cover of his biggie “Whole Wide World” (by Cage The Elephant). Eric was an oddball – he sang in a low register squeak that sounded like some weird guy’s speaking voice – and appears to have stayed one. But not all of his records are shit…

His new album is a beautifully ragged semi-lo-fi collection of remembrances of things like his childhood in Hull, England, and how the (whole wide) world seems to have been continually constructing and demolishing itself ever since. The opener, “Gateway to Europe,” tells of his hometown becoming that when a bridge was built that spanned the Humber Estuary and Britain became part of the European Common Market. (Look it up, I’m not a history teacher.) The arrangement of this song, as well as the rest of the eleven songs that make up Construction Time & Demolition, is one that sounds like it’s building up, getting denser and denser, while simultaneously kind of falling apart. Jagged guitars, weird organs and fuzz bass are at home among drums, percussion, and a “horn section” led by a brilliant trumpet blowing whenever some musical bit needs underlining. As Eric himself says, “I wanted the music to sound as though it was demolishing itself as it went along, and at times I wanted to actually hear it destroy itself, fuzz in and out until all that was left was the flat tone of a heart that’s stopped beating.” Well, now. That’s a grand concept and I think Wreckless Eric has achieved it. His lyrics remain wearily wistful in a jaded sort of been-there-done-that way, making canny observations about how getting older isn’t always easy (“life is all the same old lessons / until you learn ’em / And I’ve got so many lessons left to learn, I wish I could burn it all! / I’m coming unraveled here!”).

So how did Wreckless Eric fall off my radar? I mean, I loved his new wave records back then (see the clip below with his magnificent “Whole Wide World”), but he’s kind of come and gone over the last forty years. (I actually got to see him perform in NYC in the early ’90s during a New Music Seminar – met Cheetah Chrome from the Dead Boys at a bar down the street before the show and bought him a beer. Cheetah, not Eric. On my company’s dime.) Wreckless Eric’s had a few albums out in the last decade or so but I guess I just missed them. Meanwhile, he’s now stationed here in the States and has a pretty good thing going with this new record. You can catch him on tour if you live on the East Coast or in Britain. I hope he’s got a full band with him, and one that can deliver the goods and bads that make up Construction Time & Demolition. Meanwhile I’ll be looking into some of the records of his that I missed over the years. My bad.

4/5 (Southern Domestic)

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Spencer Brown & Bruce Thomas • Back to the Start [CD, DD]

Bassist BRUCE THOMAS is best known as the 4-stringer in The Attractions, the band that backed Elvis Costello on his earliest (and best) recordings. His unique bass playing has also graced records by Suzanne Vega, Peter Case, Duncan Dhu and John Wesley Harding. SPENCER BROWN is a bit harder to background. Apparently, he is “a songwriter friend” of Thomas’s, and the two decided to collaborate on Back to the Start once Thomas heard the demos of the songs that eventually were completed for the album.

Made up primarily of pleasant, pseudo psychedelic pop tunes, the album – available via Amazon as a digital download or made to order CD – Back to the Start’s arrangements include backwards guitar, descending/ascending chord progressions, harpsichord and other hallmarks of mid/late ’60s pop. Brown’s tunes remind me of those of The Rutles (that fictitious British band that might have been big had The Beatles allowed them to take over). Yet they’re not exactly parodies or send-ups because they don’t seem to completely ape the core facets of their foundational genre. Clearly, Brown is accomplished enough as a multi-instrumentalist (I’m pretty sure he plays everything here except bass) to be able to add his own stylistic flourishes and lift the tunes out of that likely morass; there is no denying, however, that the Sixties is his decade of choice when it comes to music. Lyrically, the songs are of the usual subject matter, though there are numerous turns-of-phrase that keep things from going too moon/June/spoon.

But back to the start of this review: Bruce Thomas plays the bass here, and as you’d expect, his fundamental style is well-suited for the project. His florid bass lines add a McCartneyesque vibe to the tunes, which almost sounds like lazy journalism except that it’s true. On the other hand, there’s no mistaking that this bass player is the same guy who propelled Elvis Costello’s late ’70s/early ’80s output with gutsy, over-the-top or under-the-radar bottom, depending on what the tune called for. I always suspected Thomas had more of a respect for Macca’s playing than he ever let on, and hearing Bruce in this context shows it to be true. And that’s not even considering the cover of “There’s a Place,” which closes out the album. It makes sense that Brown and Thomas would throw a Beatles tune into the mix, though it comes from a previous era than the one the rest of the album is concerned with, and thus ends the affair on a questionable note. (Or were they going, uh, back to the start?)

I’d say Back to the Start is worth a shot if either of these are true of you: a) You enjoy psychedelically-inspired music, and/or b) You’re a big fan of Bruce Thomas. I can answer affirmatively to both, and I’m glad to hear my second most favorite bass player back in the groove. Who knows? Maybe Spencer Brown and Bruce Thomas will get together for another go-round, go more grandiose and give us something really, truly fab.

2.75/5 (no label; available to order via Amazon)

 

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