Category Archives: #rva

2019 in Review: RVA

Why do people make year-in-review lists? Why do I make them? I make sure to ask myself those questions each year when I start this process, because it’s easy for these things to feel competitive or exclusive. It’s worth making sure you are (as they say on the reality shows) here for the right reasons. For me, it boils down to two things: 1. Wanting a record of the music that mattered to me in the preceding year (I refer back to these posts all the time to jog my memory about what happened that year), and 2. Lifting up artists who have helped me survive another trip around the Sun via their creativity. I’m so grateful for the Richmond music community, and while I know that this is just another list on a blog, I can’t not take this opportunity to send out a message of thanks.

It feels extra fitting publishing this post on the same day President Obama shared his favorite songs from 2019 — a list that included Angelica Garcia’s “Jícama.” So thrilling and well-deserved. You can bet her upcoming LP will be on next year’s list of favorite RVA albums. In the meantime, here are the Richmond releases that meant the world to me in 2019. No rankings — they’re listed alphabetically, with a few exceptions where multiple albums from the same artist are grouped together.

To the folks who made this music, you have my deepest gratitude. Thank you for doing what you do.

Analog Suspects — Transmission 001
Noah-O x Fan Ran — Dirty Rice: Deux

The perpetual motion machine known as Noah-O had another big year, with two full-length sequel LPs as highlights. Transmission 001 started the year off in style, giving a name — Analog Suspects — to his partnership with DJ Mentos. The duo picked up right where 2016’s The Rain left off, with generous doses of introspection and inspiration, and a number of piano-based beats that set a no-nonsense tone (“GAS” stands out in this respect). Dirty Rice: Deux dropped in October, adding a second chapter to his collaboration with Fan Ran, this time with vinyl courtesy of the recently founded Fantastic Damage imprint. Both albums are excellent — evidence of Noah’s relentless drive and dexterity. Or, as he puts it during Transmission 001 track “Gary Webb,” “I’m leading by example / See, I practice what I preach.”

Butcher Brown — AfroKuti: A Tribute to Fela

I love this so much. I have a fuzzy memory of either Devonne Harris or the official Butcher Brown account posting a question on social media a while back about whether anyone would be interested in a Butcher Brown Afrobeat album. I can’t find the post now, but I remember nodding vigorously and responding as quickly as humanly possible with a gesture of support. One reason that exchange has stuck with me is that the answer to “Do I want a Butcher Brown ___ album?” is always yes. You can fill in the blank with anything, because their combined mastery means they’re capable of making compelling music in any genre. They certainly sound excellent here, paying tribute to the great Fela Kuti.

Lucy Dacus — 2019

Each time Lucy Dacus releases a song or album, we’re given new angles from which we can observe her mastery of language, and I’m in awe once again. “Fools Gold,” y’all. Holy shit. The brevity. The pound-for-pound weight of each word. The way you can both picture and taste champagne when she sings “coppery coins.” I’m not sure I’ll ever see or sip that substance and not think of that line. I love this EP so, so much, and while I cherish its cover tunes dearly, I have to agree with Pitchfork, which said of the original compositions on 2019, “These are among the best songs she’s ever written.”

DJ Mentos — Fresh Air
DJ Mentos — The Maxell Tapes Vol. 1

I had the great fortune of interviewing DJ Mentos for River City Magazine, and I consider that conversation to be a top musical moment of my 2019. I have the utmost respect and admiration for his craft, especially his ear for incorporating jazz. (His “Flute Funk Volume 1” mix will change your life. Seriously.) In addition to the Analog Suspects LP mentioned above, he released two top-notch instrumental albums this year: Fresh Air over the summer, and then The Maxell Tapes Vol. 1 on the same November day he appeared on SiriusXM’s Sway in the Morning show. I asked him during our interview about where that tenacious drive to share music with the world comes from:

My dad played a lot of music for me when I was really little, and I cherished that. But growing up and listening to hip hop, there’s a real shared camaraderie between old school hip hop fans. When we talk about the early Def Jam days, or the golden era Native Tongues time to Wu Tang and Biggie, we all shared something really special. There’s a love of that shared musical experience. But I also love talking to people about music that I don’t even necessarily like… I think there are people who love music, there are people who are sort of indifferent, and then there are people like me who are obsessed. I wouldn’t compare it to a drug. I wouldn’t compare it to love, or food, or shelter. I guess for some of us it’s spiritual… 

There’s a lot of music to discover. That’s the other aspect — there’s music to listen to again and again, and then there’s that high of finding something that first time. That I would compare to a drug, because when you discover something that you had never heard and seen and it resonates with you on that deep level, that’s so exciting. That’s what I want to share with people. So whether I’m DJing, or making beats, or texting a link to a friend, I’m trying to give you that high that I got.

Landon Elliott — Domino

Speaking of River City interviews, I had the opportunity to chat with Elliott last year, before he’d started sharing songs from Domino, and I could tell way back then that something truly special was on the way. We got to speak again closer to the album’s release day, when he was getting ready to put “Hurricane” out into the world — that was another special moment to be part of.

Domino is an impressive achievement from an artist whose star will continue to rise. I’m as sure of that as I was that Elliott’s initial excitement about the album was justified. What I couldn’t have guessed at is how varied the album would turn out to be — how many styles, techniques, and modes of articulation Elliott and his American Paradox collaborators would display on one disc. I’m wildly impressed, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.

Fly Anakin & Big Kahuna OG — Holly Water

Revolt of the Apes reviewed this better than I ever could (and in haiku form, no less) earlier in December:

Can’t argue with that.

FM Skyline — Advanced Memory Suite

Pete Curry achieved a rare feat in 2019 via his vaporwave nom de guerre — releasing an album that generates such high demand that it’s re-pressed to vinyl and re-released within the same calendar year. I missed out on the first pressing, but snagged the 100% Electronica version the moment I saw it became available. Really neat to see Curry making his mark this way.

Andy Jenkins — The Garden Opens

Andy Jenkins made his full-length debut with last year’s Sweet Bunch, and he’s kept the winning streak going with a four-song EP that contains one of my absolute favorite songs of the year, “Starfish Fever.” It’s fast, both in terms of track length and pace, with quick picking and lyrical imagery that appears and disappears in the blink of an eye. But that’s “the end of beauty” in a nutshell, isn’t it? There and gone before you know it.

Sammi Lanzetta — Ceiling Mirror

On the day 6131 Records started accepting pre-orders for Ceiling Mirror, I showed up at their store on Patterson Avenue looking like Fry from Futurama in that “Shut up and take my money” meme. Turns out they were instituting a new in-store pre-order system, and I was the first one to try it out. I’ll say this about the 6131 store: They are such friendly people, and even when I don’t end up walking out with a record, either because I was pre-ordering a disc or because I was looking for something they ended up not having, I leave feeling happy I stopped in. If you haven’t been there, I recommend making a trip there soon. I’d recommend Ceiling Mirror just as highly, and for some of the same reasons, interestingly. Lanzetta conveys this amazing sense of energy, and tapping into it is like electrifying your day.

Tyler Meacham — Property

Meacham’s lyrics are affecting, and her delivery is timeless. I can imagine these songs sounding excellent in a zillion different styles, which is what you might say about standards that eventually enter the pop canon. The title/closing track is especially powerful. While I’m on record as praising dynamite first lines of songs, “Property” has a stunner of a closing lyric: “You don’t have to burn the house down to move all your property out.” Her words echo and dissipate, leaving you space to apply them uniquely to your own life. That’s pop music’s highest calling.

Minor Poet — The Good News

On his Sub Pop debut, Andrew Carter expands on the sunny, lyrically substantive sound that made his 2017 And How! full-length such a success story. At just six songs, it zooms by, making it a great candidate for repeated listening. And if you haven’t seen the amazing “Good News Hunting” video for “Museum District,” it’s embedded below. You’re welcome.

 

No BS! Brass Band — A Decade of Noise

I consider seeing No BS! for the first time one of the most significant milestones in my introduction to Richmond’s music community, and A Decade of Noise is represents a vital milestone in the band’s discography. Their studio albums are exquisite, and I wouldn’t change a single thing about them, but sometimes you want to close your eyes and transport yourself to an imagined room where Richmond’s brass powerhouse is lighting up the stage as only they can, and that’s the gift this album gives you. It also acts as a de facto best-of, given how much of the group’s history is packed into these four vinyl sides. Speaking of vinyl, when I bought my copy, they were bundling records with t-shirts for just $5 more. Easiest decision I’ve ever made.

Ohbliv — Soulphonic
Ohbliv — Give Thanks

When I pulled this album up on Bandcamp and gave it a listen back in January, I couldn’t have known just how much time I’d end up spending with Ohbliv’s handiwork in 2019. I went from owning zero albums of his (nobody should own zero Ohbliv albums, to be clear), to owning three within this calendar year. I pre-ordered Soulphonic right away, then went down to Plan 9 with my daughter when the man himself was signing copies of Give Thanks. (“Enjoy the vibes,” he wrote on my copy. I certainly have.) I also snagged a copy of the Retrospective compilation during BK Music’s closing sale. That’s eight total sides of beats by the iconic Richmond producer, and while they’re great in just about any situation, I make it a point to spin them when we have friends visiting from out of town, so they can hear what Richmond sounds like at its best.

Alan Good Parker — Everything’s Normal

One of my favorite albums to come out of Richmond this year. This decade, for that matter. The playing (Parker is as complete a guitarist as you’ll hear), the way the collection moves from beginning to end (no two tracks set the same mood), the song selection (a Big Thief cover y’all!)… It’s outstanding at every turn. I’ve spent a ton of time with Parker’s playing over the last handful of years, given his work with the Spacebomb House Band, and hearing him featured like this is tremendously rewarding. If you enjoy jazz and haven’t yet given Everything’s Normal a spin, make it the very next thing you listen to.

Saw Black & the Toys — Christmas in the Background

On a basic, physical level, music is all about wavelengths. The air vibrates with a certain frequency, your ear and brain work together to translate those vibrations, and bing-bang-boom, you got music. But wavelengths matter on a whole other zoomed-out level involving moods and people and time. Sometimes you find an artist who’s writing the songs you need to hear at a particular moment. That’s how I feel about Saw Black in general, and about Christmas in the Background especially. When you look at the album as a whole, there’s a beautiful ambivalence — an acceptance of the fact that the holidays present a complicated stew of emotions for many people. That’s the wavelength I was vibrating on this Christmas, and being able to spin this record made finding that sense of acceptance a little easier.

Sleepwalkers — Ages

I didn’t do much writing on here as much as I would have liked to in 2019, but when the first tracks from Ages were made available, you can bet I got off my Blog Butt™ and put up a post in celebration. I looked forward to this album more than just about any other in recent memory, from basking in the afterglow of Greenwood Shade’s brilliance to interviewing the band for River City Magazine to getting a preview of some early mixes out at White Star Sound to seeing that the group was partnering with Spacebomb. Ages is exactly the Sleepwalkers album we’ve been dying to hear, and it’ll stand for years as one of the city’s great musical achievements.

Spacebomb House Band — Known About Town: Library Music Compendium One

I am a devoted disciple of the Spacebomb House Band tapes, and I was so thrilled when they announced they’d be compiling some of the best cuts for a Record Store Day release. I mentioned this in my Black Friday post, but I’ll repeat here that I keep the latest tape SHB tape in my car at all times, ready to provide groovy driving music in all sorts of situations. Hauling off to an errand that’s kinda far away. Zooming down the highway with a full tank of gas. Driving just to give myself time and space to think. I can’t recommend these tapes — and this compilation — highly enough. (Small Friend still had a copy last time I was there. Just sayin’.)

Various — All Together Now: 15 Years of the Richmond Folk Festival Live

I can’t imagine what it was like to select tracks for this compilation. So many performances over the years. So many genres and traditions. (Spacebomb’s site mentions sifting through 1,300 hours of recordings.) But isn’t that the folk festival in a nutshell? It’s this monster exercise in curation, and thanks to the hard work and great musical taste of the organizers, it turns out to be a successful celebration of kaleidoscopic talents, year after year. All Together Now is just that — a wonderfully ranging collection of styles, beginning with the joyous reggae track below by Clinton Fearon and the Boogie Brown Band.

More 2019 in Review

2019 in Review: Instrumental
2019 in Review: Jazz
2019 in Review: Audiovisual
2019 in Review: 25 Favorites

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Deau Eyes

We’ve grooved with the Budos Band. Illiterate Light lit up the night. Now it’s very nearly time to say goodbye to the 35th Friday Cheers series, but not before a finale I’ve been looking forward to since this season’s schedule was announced: Lucy Dacus. Deau Eyes. Is it tomorrow yet?

There’s a unique poetry to tomorrow’s lineup that’s worth noting before you head down to Brown’s Island. For starters, this will be Dacus’ second Cheers performance; her first came in 2016 when she opened for Kurt Vile. And while you often hear the word “triumphant” used when artists return to venues they’ve played before, it’s especially fitting here, given the rave reviews she earned last year — both for her Historian album and for the EP she released with Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers under the name boygenius — and given that hers is the headlining set this time around.

The lineup is made even more meaningful by the fact that Ali Thibodeau of opening act Deau Eyes was there in the crowd during Dacus’ 2016 show, standing front-and-center and celebrating her friend’s Friday Cheers debut. I recently had the good fortune of speaking with Ali Thibodeau of Deau Eyes for a River City Magazine article, and here’s how she described that moment in relation to this one:

Did you grow up going to Friday Cheers?

I love Friday Cheers. It’s really cool. It’s one of my favorite things that happens in Richmond. I’ve felt really privileged to have been able to have watched my friends up there doing their thing. I know when Lucy played with Kurt Vile, I was in the front row, and was so stoked. My face hurt from smiling the whole time. I feel kind of full circle because it’s definitely somewhere we would go and hang out, around Belle Isle and Brown’s Island and all of that during the summer and stroll into Friday Cheers. I’m thrilled to be a part of it this year. It feels like a real hometown accomplishment.

Thibodeau and I touched on a number of other topics in our conversation, from her upcoming album’s lead single “Paper Stickers” (embedded below) to running a successful Kickstarter campaign and creative control more generally. Click here to check out the full article and here to snag a ticket for the Cheers finale. This show is special, y’all.

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David Shultz & the Skyline

A lot can go wrong when a record is delivered to your house. Loose packaging. Careless handling. Somehow sun and rain are both problematic, which seems wildly unfair, given that those are, like, the two main things weather does.

By contrast, WarHen Records just raised the bar for how right a record delivery can go. A bag of crab chips. A Northern Neck ginger ale. The snazzy new pressing of David Shultz & the Skyline’s 2009 Rain in to the Sea album I preordered after playing it repeatedly via Bandcamp during a long weekend on the Jersey Shore with family. Here’s a shot of everything Mrs. YHT found on the porch in the early morning hours of June 14:

For context, Shultz’s recent show posters have featured a scene nearly identical to the one pictured above:

Just amazing. It’s hard to put into words the feeling of pure delight at seeing that poster come to life. It was a truly indelible moment — something I’ll smile about every time I spin Rain in to the Sea, and not just because I FUCKING LOVE CRAB CHIPS. (They were gone before the weekend was out.) WarHen has always overdelivered when it comes to shipping records, from thank you notes and stickers to bonus downloads. I’m proud to call myself a loyal customer of theirs, and I recommend heading here to pick up one of the last few available copies of Rain in to the Sea. And if you haven’t already, be sure to snag Butcher Brown’s AfroKuti: A Tribute To Fela — another dynamite WarHen release.

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Landon Elliott

It’s happening. My absolute favorite time of year — when Mrs. YHT and I bolt out of work on Fridays; throw the kids, a stroller, and a couple of lawn chairs in the car (except when we forget the lawn chairs, which is more than 50% of the time); and zoom down to Brown’s Island as fast as we can to catch the start of Friday Cheers.

The folks at Venture Richmond are kicking off this season (Cheers’ 35th!) with a humdinger: Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real is headlining, with an opening set from standout Richmond artist Landon Elliott. If you’re not familiar with Lukas Nelson, “Find Yourself” could be a good starting point. The band I play in covers the song regularly, and while the lyrics convey romantic dissatisfaction, there’s an infectious bounce to it that makes it a joy to play. And Nelson’s dad is the great Willie Nelson — not crucial for appreciating Lukas’ tunes, but still fun to know.

As for Landon Elliott, I had the good fortune of interviewing him for River City Magazine earlier this year and left that conversation impressed and inspired — by his story, by his strong sense of community, and by the way music is woven throughout his own family’s fabric. A quick snippet I saw as especially meaningful:

Were your parents into music when you were growing up?

My dad and his family are from Ohio, and they all love 1970s and 1980s classic rock and roll. My dad raised me on Journey, Def Leppard, AC/DC, Whitesnake, Mötley Crüe. My first concert with my dad was KISS at eight or nine years old. So there’s a ton of rock influence there… My mom loved country music. I remember [her] singing karaoke, and she’d sing at music festivals. We even moved to Nashville for two years and she pursued a music career… She recorded this really beautiful single during her time there, so that’s a gem for our family. I remember being six or seven years old, watching my mom doing the thing and thought it was so cool.

[My grandfather] was a deep-sea fisherman for 30-plus years of his life… the acoustic guitar that I play was the guitar that he took around on his boat. That guitar has been more places than I have. It’s been all the way up [and] around to Alaska and back. He would come home and people would want to see him after these long trips. We’d do these big fish fries at the house and a guitar would inevitably come out at some point and he would sing and play Elvis and Johnny Cash. That was how it all started — watching my family doing it and [thinking] “I could do that.”

Check out the rest of the interview here, and click here for ticket’s to this Friday’s Cheers show. A guaranteed good time for any music-loving family.

 

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Shy, Low

Some fun news for fans of post-rock and/or colored vinyl and/or flower arranging…

Shy, Low has repressed their 2015 gem Hiraeth, and they’re offering two snazzy colored-vinyl options: “Cowslip,” which is highlighter yellow with orange pinwheels, and “Forget-Me-Not” — a yellow-in-electric blue with white splatter design. Like the massive, cinematic music contained in the grooves, and like the floral cover art, they’re gorgeous. Take a look:

If I’m reading the Discogs descriptions correctly, my copy from the original run is the “Bell Heather” version — milky clear with a baby pink swirl. Is each variant representative of a flower depicted in the arrangement on the cover? Maybe? My ikebana has a long way to go.

I do know that it’s worth snagging copy over at Bandcamp before they’re all gone.

Update: The band shared the following via Facebook:

We also have some available locally and will have some for upcoming shows. Not many, so if you wait, you may lose out.

 

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2018 in Review: RVA Part 1

This year’s going to be a little different. I’ll be blurbing about more of my favorite Richmond releases from 2018 over at The Auricular, so call this 2018 in Review: RVA Part 1. Here are eight of the in-town albums I got the most enjoyment from spinning this year.

Beltway Recording Company — Outer Sounds From the Inner Loop

There’s so much to say here, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise. This album is not what it says it is — somehow it’s even more. More to come about this one (I hope) in the coming year. For now, please enjoy the seemingly well-worn groove of “River Road,” an exceptionally catchy tune with lyrics that happen to fit the River Road in Richmond suspiciously well…

Butcher Brown — Camden Session

All day, every day. In the studio, live in the studio, live at a show: Yes to Butcher Brown. Can that be a new ad campaign for Richmond music? Just “Yes to Butcher Brown”? I would wear that t-shirt. Someone please make it so I can buy two: one to wear around regularly and one for when the pits of the first one get gross.

What we were talking about? Oh right — hell yes to Butcher Brown and their in-studio Camden Session. True story: I almost bought it from England when it was first announced, not knowing then that it would be available at stores in town around the same time it became available online.

Lucy Dacus — Historian

From the post I wrote when “Night Shift” came out late last year:

It was that exceptional coda that stood out when I saw her perform “Night Shift” at The National in 2016, but having an opportunity to sit with the quieter moments has been rewarding, as is always the case with Dacus’ music. Forgive me if I’ve said something similar in the past while singing her praises, but Dacus’ lyrics comprise some of my favorite writing anywhere, in much the same way that John Darnielle’s Mountain Goats lyrics feel like they transcend their form.

Fly Anakin & Ohbliv — Backyard Boogie

Next time you’re in the vicinity of Scott’s Addition pretending to have legitimate errands so you can tack on a brewery stop, head to the intersection of West Clay Street and Roseneath Road, park your car, walk a few paces east on Clay, and then look left. There you’ll find one of the most stunning murals in all of Richmond: a Nils Westergard work depicting the two Backyard Boogie collaborators, Fly Anakin and Ohbliv, gazing upward. It’s a fitting tribute to a thriving Richmond hip-hop community, and Backyard Boogie is among the year’s finest releases in any genre — a perfect marriage of Fly Anakin’s relentless energy and Ohbliv’s endlessly innovative approach to producing.

Michael Millions — Hard to Be King

I reconnected with Hard to be King while working on my year-end playlist for Off Your Radar. “Apologize Less” will zoom across the finish line as one of my favorite songs of 2018, with moving piano-laced production from Brandon “NameBrand” Bass and a chorus payoff that feels like a fitting resolution, New Year’s or otherwise: “What what I feel, apologize less.”

Nickelus F — Stuck

My first visit to Vinyl Conflict was long overdue. I finally stopped by in December to pick up a copy of Stuck after hearing that supplies of the yellow-vinyl version were dwindling. I had the best time chatting with Bobby Egger, who owns the store and runs the label that reissued Stuck on vinyl. His enthusiasm for his new, hip-hop focused Fantastic Damage imprint was inspiring, as was the way he talked about Nickelus F’s complete mastery of music making, from production to lyricism. Listen to “Yea Aight” below to hear a true auteur at work.

Opin – Drifters EP

Speaking of limited-run releases, Opin pressed just 50 copies of this four-song EP, which includes a wonderfully extrapolated and brightly lit version of the fabled Japanese pop song “Shinzo no Tobira.” Clear vinyl. Lathe cut. Harding Assembly Lab. I couldn’t put my order in fast enough.

Natalie Prass — The Future and the Past

I go to great lengths to keep track of the albums I listen to each year, but my concert-going is way more chaotic. I can’t seem to keep a list of the shows I go to, and I’d guess that I went to fewer shows in 2018 than any year in recent memory. That said, I know damn well what my live music moment of the year was: Watching in awe as Angelica Garcia and Kenneka Cook provided backing vocals for a stripped down version of “Lost” at the Broadberry. You know it was a powerful moment when you get goosebumps again just thinking about it. Man, was that something.

More 2018 in Review:

2018 in Review: EPs
2018 in Review: Jazz
2018 in Review: Blasts from the Past
2018 in Review: 15 Favorites

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Small Friend Records and Books

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I’d like to share a link to an article I wrote about a place I’m truly thankful for: Small Friend Records & Books. I had an opportunity to interview the shop’s owners a little while back, and it was such a pleasure learning about how they got started, how they envision their store’s role in the Shockoe Bottom community, and how they see that space evolving in the future. They have such clear and admirable passion — not just for music, books, and zines, but also for the ideas represented in and by the items they stock.

Here’s how I started the piece:

When you walk into a house and scan the walls and shelves for the first time, you learn a lot about the people who live there. In that sense, Small Friend Records & Books, which opened its doors on 17th Street in April, feels as much like a home as a place you’d go to buy albums or novels.

I’ve written about this before, but one reason I care so deeply about — and am so thankful for — the record stores here in Richmond is the way they represent the importance of a sense of place in our lives. Places connect us to other people. They keep us engaged with those people, even when we don’t agree with them. And places connect us to our past, helping us better understand our present and future. Without a sense of place, we are diminished.

Small Friend is a wonderful place, and I hope you’ll take a few minutes to check out the interview. More importantly, head downtown to check out Small Friend for yourself. I’ve been there a number of times, and of the albums I’ve snagged there, I think I’m most in love with my copy of the Wild Wild Country original score, which was composed by Brocker Way — brother of the pair of brothers who made the Netflix docuseries. (There are three brothers total. Well, three brothers involved in the series. I guess they could have other brothers… I’m gonna stop. You get the idea.)

In many ways, the show is itself a meditation on the idea of place — on what it takes to build an organic community, and how quickly a place can grow without losing its sense of self. Here’s a favorite track of mine from the score — the elegiac “Church and State.”

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