Blazzaj – fifteen years of funk and an evening of time-traveling


Blazzaj is a band that I’ve been listening to for what seems like forever. I’m proud to say that this dynamic and tremendously entertaining group of musicians from my hometown of Timisoara was at the spearhead of my first forays into good quality music back in the tumultuous and acoustically confusing years of high-school. Let’s just say they are the first Romanian band whose “myth” I got really interested in and the musical journey we have been on together (the journey that always takes place when artists and their audience click) has come full circle last night on their 15 year anniversary concert.


It was 2003 and we were at a concert in a place called Club 30 (I think?!). A while before that, my best friend at the time had recommended we check out this awesome Jazz band that he described as “a breath of fresh air” on the local music scene. By then, Blazzaj had already been around for a while but we had just discovered them and to us they were brand new.

I recognized the lead vocalist, Tavi “Vita” Horvath, ‘cos he was one of the guys hanging out and working at this hip CD store that sold counterfeit records (made in Bulgaria if memory serves). The store was called Rocka Rolla and all the high-school kids loved it ‘cos it was the one place in the city where you could buy decent music. The owner was a 40-something long-haired rocker from back in the day and he also managed some local bands on the side. Sometimes he also seemed to serve as the sound engineer for some of the gigs and he and Vita were usually seen together.

Anyway, by the time we attended the aforementioned concert we were already pretty familiar with their work. The gig was in this little club and we were having a great time because the venue was nice and cozy and had no problems serving beer to underage kids. It also had pretty decent acoustics, at least for the sensibility of two seventeen-year-old high-school kids. When Blazzaj hit the stage we were super excited. First and foremost we were excited because we loved the band, because their music was funky and cool and clever and, most importantly, different from anything else you could find at the time. We were also excited because these guys were our home-town boys, because they were talented and funny and humble, because to us they were superstars and yet they were approachable and friendly and real.

At that point the band was just in the middle of a transition. Bass-player Florin Barbu had left and newcomer Uțu Pascu was struggling with the more difficult parts. Also, in a powerful blow, Eddie Neumann the sax-player and also the brain behind much of the music had just left both the band and the country in a fit of rage that I remember materialized into a post on the band’s official forum, an angry diatribe directed at the sorry state of the current (early 2000s) Romanian music scene (“I feel sorry for your ears!”).

Anyhow, since Eddie’s sax, a huge part of the show, was now entirely missing two of the other musicians had to step up to the plate and fill the gap. Those musicians were keyboard player (doubling on trumpet) Petrică Ionuțescu and guitar-player Horea Crișovan. Someone also had the clever idea of filling the void left behind by Eddie’s so-so vocals with the contribution of a female lead vocalist who at the time was a girl named Lavinia Pițu, who sounded pretty good but had about as much to do with Jazz and funk as auto-tune.

Nevertheless, the show was absolutely amazing. The band seemed driven by sheer energy and a charming honesty provided in great part by frontman and human high-capacity-battery Tavi Horvath. Tavi wore his heart on his sleeve and he never hesitated to pour said heart out on the mic with such disarmingly honest, sometimes even juvenile energy (and I mean that in the best possible way) that you could not help but get caught up in his enthusiasm. With a very capable band backing up the eccentric lead vocalist the band completely rocked that gig and turned two young and impressionable listeners into loyal fans.

Now fast forward to 2013!



A few days ago I got a Facebook notification informing me that Blazzaj were going to be performing in the concert hall of a local music high-school named after Ion Vidu, a celebrated composer and choral conductor (I can’t help but wonder what he would have thought of the “soldiers of funk”).

In the ten years since the first Blazzaj concert I had ever attended so many things have changed in my life, my taste in music, the city and its music scene.  One thing that has remained constant though, is Blazzaj itself, as the band still plays gigs every once in a while promoting funk and good mood as only they can. But the band has also experienced many changes throughout the years. Lavinia Pițu was quick to depart but they did keep the female-vocalist formula and recruited Romanian Jazz woman of mystery Cristina Pădurariu, an immensely talented musician with a splendid voice and a quirky and awkward personality that made for a powerful stage presence.

This was, to me, the highlight of their career. Musically they had achieved a balance that was felt in their performances. Their material was top-notch. If their debut record Atentie Blazzaj! (Attention Blazzaj!) was a bit of an experiment, struggling at times to keep a musical balance and sometimes sounding a bit rushed, their follow-up Macadam is, in my opinion, one of the best records produced by the Romanian music industry (as in…ever!).  No doubt, it is also the music industry’s best-kept secret.

To this day Macadam is a musical treasure, a unique record that sounds as relevant today as it did ten years ago. With the powerful songs from this album front and center, and some from their first one thrown in for added fun, with talented and energetic musicians, a front-man who was eccentric and charismatic and one of the most versatile female Jazz vocalists in the country, Blazzaj had it all and it was a great time to be a fan. As a side-project, guitar-player Horea Crișovan and Cristina Pădurariu sometimes performed as a duo, playing songs from the international repertoire. These gigs were always amazing (I think I caught three of them) and, though they had nothing to do with Blazzaj, they still added to the band’s overall ”myth”.  Cristina Padurariu regrettably left the band somewhere around 2004/2005 and everything that happened afterwards is a bit foggy in my memory as my own musical interests shifted towards other things.

After 2005 I think I only caught them live a handful of times. I know they had some more female vocalists until they decided to drop that position and just keep Tavi Horvath on lead alone but unfortunately, their failure to produce the highly-anticipated third record made them lose a lot of steam and, perhaps, also some fans along the way (Some of my friends and fellow fans also tuned out around this time so I know it wasn’t just me).  Still, I did keep my eye on the career of Horea Crisovan, the band-member who always interested me the most (for reasons that have everything to do with his incredible talent that I’ve written about before and will write about again).

Alright, so I read online that the band would be holding a gig to commemorate fifteen years of existence, a gig that will be filmed and turned into a DVD. That in itself was enough to sell me on participating but the cherry on top was that Horea Crișovan and Cristina Pădurariu would be there as well; the best guitar player in the country and the charming chanteuse who could sing your eulogy and have you clapping. There was no way “The Music and Myth” would not be in attendance.


The Gig:    

The moment the band walked onstage was surreal for me, it took me right back to that day I had first seen them. Things had changed, no doubt. The band was decidedly bigger this time. Aside from the guys I remembered from years ago (including Vali Potra on drums, Petrică Ionuțescu on trumpet and keyboard and Uțu Pascu on bass) they now had Lucian Nagy on sax, Sergiu Cătană on percussion, Gabi Almași on guitar and theremin and K-Lu on turntables.

You know how sometimes you haven’t seen a band in a few years and are really amped up for their performance only to see that the wear-and-tear on their creative forces has made them a far cry from what you remembered? Well, that is definitely not the case with Blazzaj. Unbelievable, the band’s intense delivery was every bit the same as I remembered and for that I have to give credit mostly to the ageless Tavi “Vita” Horvath who seems to have stepped straight out of a time machine and whose enthusiasm for performing remains unparalleled on the Romanian quality-music scene. The man is every bit as fun today as he was ten years ago and he seems as excited to be performing for his audience after a decade and a half on the music scene as he ever was. Tell me how often you see that in a performer!?!

The gig would have been great on Tavi’s energy alone but the band seemed determined to keep up the pace and brought nothing less than their A game. A standout as always was Horea Crisovan who is absolutely amazing and was given a fairly good amount of time to shine.

They started off with some of their newer songs (and by new I mean everything since releasing Macadam a decade ago) which was a great way to kick off the show because the newer ones are particularly high on energy and Vita’s trademark lyrics, purposefully silly most of the time, help you suspend your disbelief and just abandon yourself to the fun performance.  However, the number of songs they played from their second record was surprisingly low for an anniversary show and was a bit of a let-down.

At the beginning of the performance Tavi mentioned that two of the guest vocalists (musicians Mara and Alexandrina) had not made it to the show apparently due to some traveling misfortune so that might explain the conspicuous absence of some of the better vocal songs, like “De Partea Ta” (On Your Side) and “Faptele” (Facts). Luckily, Cristina Pădurariu had made it, which was the one guest appearance I was most excited about. I had seen Cristina lurking backstage and was eagerly awaiting her contribution. The first track to feature her was “Un Lucru” (One Thing) and I have to say that something seemed off. It wasn’t her singing, as her voice is always in excellent shape, but her timbre just did not seem to be very well reproduced within the arrangement of the sound. In fact, the whole sound engineering part of the show left a lot to be desired, which was disappointing for such an important event. Luckily, the experienced musician quickly adapted and regained her balance on the most important track in the set-list, “Urma” (The Trace). The song is the most ambitious in the band’s repertoire and easily one of the ballsiest and most well-constructed songs in the modern Romanian music scene; an eerie ballad that builds up to a crazy and cathartic explosion of hard rock courtesy of Tavi Horvath, who’s got plenty of experience in that field. It goes without saying that “Urma” is the constant highlight of any Blazzaj show and I was surprised that it wasn’t featured in a more prominent spot in the concert. Seeing Tavi and Cristina perform this song together again was a beautiful and emotional moment as the two musicians, vastly different as far as personalities go, always made for a great duo. Cristina stayed on board for “La Pensie” (Retired), where she played didgeridoo and sang background vocals.


If I remember correctly they closed off the show with “Armata-i Antifunk” (The army is Anti-funk) and returned onstage for “Ograda” (The Barnyard) and “Rindea”  (Plough Plane), though I might be getting the final songs mixed up.

Overall the show was great and a ton of fun as Blazzaj shows always are but, for a landmark concert, I have to say it was lacking on the technical side (the sound was a bit “off” and the lights were constantly blinding and annoying the audience). Fortunately, as far as the actual performance went, the guys were wholly entertaining and went on to demonstrate why they are considered some of the country’s most talented musicians.

For me, the show also had a major nostalgia factor that made me happily relive the days when I was loyally following the career-path of this band. It also made me regret having given up on them in recent years. Hopefully the DVD will turn out great and prove a successful move in the career of this band that has certainly demonstrated its staying power.

Blazzaj is as much a part of Timisoara as the canal that flows through the city or the architecture that defines its character. The band is a local musical landmark and, as long as they will be around, I’m sure the audience will love to listen to them. I know I will definitely keep them on the radar again and, who knows, perhaps someday soon we will see a third record after all.


Iva Bittova at the synagogue in Timisoara – Everything is Music


Photo by Andrei Cherascu

A few days ago I wrote an article about Iva Bittova’s self-titled album released this year under the prestigious ECM label. While researching the record, I wanted to see what the artist has been up to lately, so I checked out her tour dates as well. Imagine my surprise when I found out that Iva was going to hold a concert at one of the synagogues in my city just a little over one week later.  Now, I had never seen the inside of a synagogue before but, most importantly, I had never seen Iva Bittova perform live before. As I wrote in my article, I enjoyed the record and her distinctive brand of music so I was more than curious to see what a live performance would involve especially since what I had seen on Youtube was very promising.

Let me just state this from the get-go: a recording does not do Iva Bittova justice! Her live performance was out of this world, a unique experience I will not soon forget. But let’s start with the beginning: I got there a few minutes early and I immediately spotted Iva walking around. Many people did not seem to know who she was. Since the concert was part of the SoundCzech music festival, promoting Czech music and culture perhaps some people just came because of that, not necessarily knowing who would be performing. This also brings me to my only major gripe with the concert, one that does not have anything to do with the performance itself. I’ve noticed many young girls and boys attending and it didn’t take me long to figure out that they were schoolkids more or less forced to be there by what I can only assume was their music teacher. It also didn’t take them long to become a complete nuisance, constantly giggling, talking and probably wishing they were at home listening to One Direction. They bothered me to the point where I had to switch seats. That turned out to be to my advantage though because I got closer to the artist and thus able to better appreciate her quirky stage presence. But the presence of those hapless teenagers does prove my point that you cannot force-feed art and good taste. The teacher who came up with this little field trip, though well-intended, should definitely rethink his or her teaching methods.

Anyway, on to the performance itself (but without leaving the aforementioned teenagers behind just yet): Some people representing the festival took the stage and said something barely audible in the rather big synagogue. Meanwhile Iva Bittova had appeared completely unnoticed from somewhere close to the back rows and near the entrance. She stopped right next to my row. I think I was one of the few people (if not the only one) who noticed her and…what, you don’t believe me? Fine, here’s a picture:


Pictured: I told you so!

Anyway, when she started singing, in typical Iva fashion she scared the bejesus out of the aforementioned teens much to my amusement. The humoros moment as well as the mild commotion caused by Iva’s ghost-like appearance quickly dissipated and within a few moments the entire synagogue grew silent in amazement with Iva’s voice. I believe she started off with “Fragment X” but I’m not entirely sure.

I mentioned before that the record does not do her justice. The first thing you notice upon listening to her live is just how incredibly powerful and versatile her voice is, an aspect of her music that is perhaps a bit underplayed in her latest album. You could already tell in the recording that she has a lovely voice and I believe I wrote “make no mistake; hers is a powerful and educated voice that the singer purposefully chooses not to flaunt and instead, to use only as much as a certain song requires.” Well, that powerful and educate voice really shined last night in a manner that left me completely impressed. It is not uncommon for capable singers to sound much better live than on a record but I’ve never before experienced such an enormous difference. The reason for that I believe has as much to do with the subjective experience of her performance as it does with the incredible accoustics of a place of worship.

Again, that is not to say that Iva’s voice does not sound good on the album, it most certainly does, but I think there is a dynamic aspect to the way she delivers her vocals that just cannot be captured on audio. Iva sings, not only with her voice, but with her entire body, her face, her hands and her feet. Also, the way in which she interacts with the crowd, often making eye-contact, smiling like Alanis Morisette when she played God in the movie Dogma, seeming to sing directly to and for some random member of the crowd becomes such an integral part of her art that – I can now state -, you can feel its absence from the record. Mostly, it is the facial expressions of the very expressive singer that help convey the message of her music and the humor, that I mentioned also in the CD review, is an even larger part of her work than I expected. Her voice often changes registry, she stops singing abruptly, then starts again in a higher-pitched tone, switching gears like Jeremy Clarkson on crystal meth (sorry, I’ve recently seen the ending of Breaking Bad) all the while walking back and forth in the synagogue so that the sound of her voice and violin move with her like sentient entities and she occasionally stomps, swivels and claps her hands, all part of her act.  Many (avant-garde) singers like to brag that they are doing something different but in the case of Iva Bittova that is undoubtedly true. I don’t even think there is a name for what she does yet.

A few days before the event I had sent the talented lady an e-mail asking for the opportunity to conduct an interview. My e-mail sadly never got answered but that does not mean that I didn’t get the opportunity to catch a small glimpse into her worldview. Shortly after the first couple of songs Iva started talking to the audience and more or less warning them expect an open and dynamic performance, referring to the many shrieks, wails, hums and bird sounds produced not only by her voice but her violin as well, a very emotional spectacle. As Iva herself so wonderfully put it “Everything is music!”

Then, as if predicting my never-asked questions she started explaining how, unsure of her violin-playing ability, she began using her voice to stregthen her playing, thus creating a musical symbiosis that works incredibly.

Not that she would have any reason to worry about her violin-playing as her masterful control of the instrument provided a powerful backbone for her performance.

To conclude: if you have the opportunity go see this talented and intelligent artist live! Also, if you have the time, read my prior article and then this one again for a pertinent picture of the difference between experiencing music on a record and in a live performance.

Hey everyone, if you like my articles on The Music and Myth, perhaps you will also enjoy my novel Mindguard. You can find it exclusively on Amazon.

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Mark Knopfler “Privateering” – Live in Budapest, 22/06/2013


Let me get state this right off the bat: I’ve made no secret in the past that this is a highly subjective blog. I am in no way an authority on music; I’m just passionate about this art form when it’s done right.

“The Music and Myth” is not merely a review blog; it’s more of a place where I try to promote the music I love and where I write about my experience with a certain piece of music, musician or performance.  You’re not going to get hateful reviews of how much a certain Avril Lavigne record sucked because I just don’t take the time to write about poor quality music

The records and artists I do write about are some that I already love and have a great opinion of much to the dismay of people who would like to read cynical and mock-intellectual reviews that try to put down certain artists and records. That’s just not me. When it comes to music, if I can’t say something good about it then I’d rather not write about it at all (though I’m sure a blog full of hate and poison would get ten times more views).

Anyway, the reason I’m starting my article with this little disclaimer is the fact that this weekend I got to see Mark Knopfler live in Budapest at the Laszlo Papp arena as part of his Privateering tour. If you know me at all you will know that I’ve been a huge fan of Mark’s for fifteen years and that getting to see him in concert was always on my “bucket list” so I’m not the right guy to make a subjective comment about the quality and structure of the concert. Hell, he could have spent two hours playing Bulgarian folk songs and I would still have gone home happy such is my love and admiration for this man. Still, I’ll try to keep this review as objective and professional as I possibly can.

When it comes to Mark I’m a fan of everything he did, from his Dire Straits era (both the “Sultans of Swing” and the “Brothers in Arms” incarnation of DS) to his solo work. I’m definitely not one of the people who expect to see a new Dire Straits record out any time soon only to be left disappointed and in the past I’ve likened those people to the unfortunate souls who think disco is coming back or that Elvis is still alive. In fact, I’m very fond of Mark’s solo work and, on my review of Privateering, I wrote that the record “again goes to prove that while Mark’s biggest hits came in his Dire Straits-past his best music and most interesting stories belong to the present.” It is with this mindset that I’ve attended the concert and it’s because of this mindset that I’ve enjoyed it so much. In fact, for a tour designed to promote the record the concert had a little bit of everything.

I was a bit surprised by the fact that there was no opening act and when, all of a sudden, Mark and the gang appeared on stage I was completely caught off guard. The aforementioned “gang” consisted of Richard Bennett (guitar), Guy Fletcher (keyboards), Jim Cox (piano, organ, accordion), Michael McGoldrick (whistles, uilleann pipes), John McCusker (violin, cittern), Glenn Worf (bass), and Ian Thomas (drums) – who made an excellent impresson on me.


They went right to work starting the set with “What It Is”, Mark’s undisputable anthem of the post-Dire-Straits-era and a perfect song to get the crowd in the mood. They continued with “Corned Beef City”, one of only three songs they played from the new record (the others were “Privateering” and “I Used to Could”). I was surprised that they only played three of the generous twenty tracks from Privateering but I have to say I was also happy about that in a way. Since it’s my first time seeing Mark live I was glad that the selection of songs he played was more varied. Now, regarding “Corned Beef City” and “I Used to Could” I went on record saying that I’m not necessarily a big fan of his blues-influenced tracks (which abound on the new album) but I have to admit that they make for some great live performances. As far as “Privateering” is concerned, I think it’s one of the best songs of his solo career and it sounds just as good live as it does on CD.

I was happy that we got to hear “Song for Sonny Liston” which I love and especially “I Dug up a Diamond”, a song that has a very special meaning to my wife and me for reasons that have everything to do with our wedding and the wedding DVD. Since he doesn’t always play these two songs on the Privateering tour I think we were most fortunate to get to enjoy them live (and in case you were wondering, they were awesome!)

The combination of “Father and Son” and “Hill Farmer’s Blues” was very emotional and a feel-good moment for band interaction as was “Postcards from Paraguay” while “Speedway at Nazareth” was absolutely intense. I’ve always stated that Mark’s greatest value as a guitarist is in the fact that he never gave into the temptation of putting the instrument before the song, a common fault of many of the world’s greatest guitarists. One of the most celebrated and innovative guitar-players in the world Mark has always been wise enough to never feature his instrument beyond what a certain song calls for, making him a storyteller first and a guitarist second, a most fortunate quality in a songwriter. “Speedway” is a song in which you get to witness Mark in full guitar-god mode while never taking away from the story of the song which is a rare and precious occurrence in music.

The Dire Straits nostalgia moments were provided by “Romeo and Juliet” and “Telegraph Road”, the latter being the set’s closing track, an excellent choice. If I’ve managed to maintain a degree of objectivity and professionalism so far it all flies out the window now that I write about “Telegraph Road”. The song is not only one of my favorite MK/DS tunes but one of my absolute favorite songs of all time and I’ve been in love with this track for fifteen years with a love that never once waned. To experience it live was as though I got to relive the last fifteen years of my life in ten minutes, with all its incredible ups and abysmal downs, an emotional roller-coaster ride that I cannot compare with any other musical experience I’ve lived so far and one that I think represents the pinnacle of what music can achieve.

After leaving the stage and leaving behind a roaring crowd the band quickly returned for an encore consisting of “Our Shangri-La” and “So Far Away”. I’ve heard someone complain that it wasn’t “Sultans of Swing” or “Brothers in Arms” but, as a person who tries to understand the structure and mindset behind performing music, I can understand the decision. While I would have also liked to have heard those classics I am not at all disappointed with the encore that featured two powerful and very sentimental tracks.

In its entirety, the concert was a display of perfect professionalism from one of the music industry’s few veritable gentlemen. Musically, it was irreproachable and my only disappointment was the structure of the stage, namely the lack of a screen. We had great seats but, even so, it would have been nice to have a screen showing close-ups of the band performing. I’m not sure who is responsible for this aspect of the performance, whether it was the guys at the Laszlo Papp Arena or Mark’s own staff but that’s one thing that I would have liked to have seen. Still, only a minor gripe in what was otherwise an incredibly positive experience.

There is something to be said about experiencing excellent musicians live and when it is someone whose work you’ve been listening to and who you’ve been looking up to for a decade and a half the experience is incomparable. As a citizen of a country that has only recently gained a more dynamic mindset when it comes to seeing their favorite performers live I’m a bit sad that I haven’t attended more such concerts in my life and I’ve made it a point to see Mark perform any chance I get. It is most certainly worth it!

Hey everyone, if you like my articles on The Music and Myth, perhaps you will also enjoy my novel Mindguard. You can find it exclusively on Amazon.

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Vivaldi vs. Piazzolla – Eight Seasons


I don’t often get the opportunity to review events and even more rarely do I get the chance to write about local ones, mostly on account of the fact that I’d actually have to get out of the house from time to time in order to attend anything that can be classified as an “event”. Well, that has certainly changed in recent weeks and it all started with my visit to the Banat Philharmonic on Saturday January 19th. The concert that was being advertized was billing Antonio Vivaldi and Astor Piazzolla and their respective “Four Seasons”. Now, at the risk of being shunned by the music community and having my blog actively boycotted by all my readers (though I’m not actually sure that three people stopping to read my posts can really be called a “boycott”) I must admit that I am not, nor have I ever been a big fan of Vivaldi. I can appreciate the genius but it just doesn’t resonate with me. Piazzolla, on the other hand, is more up my alley. Nevertheless, whether you are a connoisseur of Vivaldi, a fan of Piazzolla or an admirer of both, on that evening you were not going to leave disappointed.

The anticipation surrounding the event was so high that the tickets for Friday (January 18th) quickly sold out and a second show was put together for the next day, which ended up being the one I attended.

The band was split in two camps, the Vivaldi workers on the left, and the Piazzolla pack on the right, the latter complete with colorful apparel and playful props. Camp Vivaldi was being led by veteran violinist Gabriel Popa and I have to admit that it did feel great getting to experience this monumental work of music especially under the lead of the (as far as my limited knowledge of string music could let me tell) flawless playing of Mr. Popa. After “Spring” was over we were treated to spring again, this time in Buenos Aires and brought about by the lead violin of the very young and immensely talented Catalina Costin. The Timisoara-born violinist is, as of June 2011 concertmaster of the Banat Philharmonic Orchestra and, incidentally, the youngest concertmaster in the country. Her grace and charm matching her talent, the young musician brought what I thought was exactly the right attitude for the dynamic and passionate character of the Argentinean tango, both visually – with a change of outfits to match all “seasons” – but most of all musically, timing everything perfectly.

I mentioned the “visual” aspect before since that was an integral part of the show, helping to emphasize the individual character of these compositions created 240 years apart and sharing, in actuality, only the name.  The static, intransigent character of the titanic classic versus the sinuous animated nature of the modern composition reflected beautifully in the performance of both “camps” and in the interlacement of the compositions. The concert began and ended with Vivaldi and, after the last moments of “winter” came to an end the musicians were met with a standing ovation and several calls for “encore”.

As I understand, the Banat Philarmonic are planning on taking this particular concert on the road, both in and out of the country. If you are interested in symphony music I recommend catching the event if you can, it will make you happy. If symphony music is not your cup of tea, I recommend catching this event, it will make you happy. Take it from a guy who rarely ventures out of Jazz territory.

In fact, I’ve mentioned at the beginning of the article that I rarely ever get out of the house to attend any kind of event but I have to add that, since January 19th I’ve made a weekly habit of catching the shows of the recently rejuvenated Banat Philharmonic and I have yet to be disappointed.

Hey everyone, if you like my articles on The Music and Myth, perhaps you will also enjoy my novel Mindguard. You can find it exclusively on Amazon.

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