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My Top Ten Favorite CDs of 2018

Updated on August 24, 2020
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Dale is a former secondary school teacher and football coach. He has been an online writer for over four years.

Tree of Forgiveness by John Prine

According to his own account, Prine's wife and now de facto manager, Fiona checked him and his guitars and a box full of half-finished songs into the Omni Hotel in Nashville and told him he had about a week to come up with ten songs for a new album. It worked and that album, "The Tree of Forgiveness" kept rattling around in my head until I had to admit it was my favorite CD of 2018.

Prine has been my favorite songwriter for close to 50 years so I tried to give other performers a decent shot at best of 2018 until I was certain none of their efforts had the same impact on me as his first new material in 12 years.


"Lonesome Friends of Science"

The lonesome friends of science say
"The world will end most any day"
Well, if it does, then that's okay
'Cause I don't live here anyway
I live down deep inside my head
Where long ago I made my bed
I get my mail in Tennessee
My wife, my dog and my family


He's survived a couple bouts of cancer in his neck and in his lung, so he's lost a little of the power in his scruffy voice, but it still has the southern midwest twang which has always given his songs their unique character.


"Egg & Daughter Nite, Lincoln Nebraska, 1967 (Crazy Bone)"

Don't be stuck up in Alaska
When you should be in Nebraska
On a Thursday when it's Egg & Daughter Nite
When the farmers come to town
And they spread them eggs around
And they drop their daughters down at the roller rink
Well you're prob'ly standin' there
With your slicked-back, Brylcream hair
Your Lucky's and your daddy's fine-tooth comb
If they knew what you were thinkin'
They'd've run you out of Lincoln
Just blame it on that ole' crazy bone


In 1985, Prine released an album entitled "Aimless Love" and a song with that title opines that: Love has no mind. It can't spell unkind / It's never seen a heart shaped like a Valentine / For if love knew you. It'd walk up to you / And introduce you to an aimless love.

In response, "Boundless Love" seems much bigger or perhaps, smaller and more personal at the same time.


"Boundless Love"

Sometimes my ol' heart is like a washing machine
It bounces around 'til my soul comes clean
And when I'm clean and hung out to dry
I'm gonna make you laugh until you cry

Surround me with your boundless love
Confound me with your boundless love
I was drowning in the sea, lost as I could be
When you found me with your boundless love


As Prine says this is the prettiest song that just might make you cry. The song has its origins in a lost victim of the opioid problems in the country.


"Summer's End"

The moon and stars hang out in bars just talkin'
I still love that picture of us walkin'
Just like that ol' house we thought was haunted
Summer's end came faster than we wanted

Come on home
Come on home
No you don't have to
Be alone
Come on home
Come on home
You don’t have to
Be alone
Just come on home


Long ago, Prine wrote a song entitled, "They Oughta Name a Drink After You." When there wasn't a name for his favorite drink, he named it after himself: The Handsome Johnny, vodka and ginger ale. If you make it in that order, you'll always have a rhyme if you want to use it in a song.

Also, he really did have a brother named Doug and his father never failed to reduce John to laughter with "you're a dead pecker-head" to denote being really, really dead.


"When I Get to Heaven"

Yeah when I get to heaven, I'm gonna take that wristwatch off my arm
What are you gonna do with time after you've bought the farm?
And them I'm gonna go find my mom and dad, and good old brother Doug
Well I'll bet him and cousin Jackie are still cuttin' up a rug
I wanna see all my mama's sisters, 'cause that's where all the love starts
I miss 'em all like crazy, bless their little hearts
And I always will remember these words my daddy said
He said, "Buddy, when you're dead, you're a dead pecker-head"
I hope to prove him wrong... that is, when I get to heaven

And then I'm gonna get a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale
Yeah, I'm gonna smoke a cigarette that's nine miles long
I'm gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl
'Cause this old man is goin' to town

"Summer's End"

Out From Under by Michael McDermott

McDermott's "Willow Springs" made my top ten for 2016. That album had many songs about him struggling out of his addictions. "Out From Under" appears to be more about not slipping back. To me, he has always been one of the most literate songwriters I've ever heard, sober or otherwise.

“I burned a lot of bridges and screwed things up pretty bad,” he states. “I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that it was just short of suicide by cop. I knew I had to stop, but it took a while for me to get the message.” He credits his wife and their young daughter, Rain, for finally pulling him through. “Seeing the way they look at you when you’re messed up – after a while you go, ‘I just can’t do this anymore. Something has to change.’"


"Out From Under"

I know this world scares you

I can see it in your eyes

All I ever wanted to do was be your hero in disguise

To save the day when things are torn asunder

To satisfy your need, your fire, your hunger

Oh, I know someday we'll be out from under

Oh, I know someday we'll be out from under


For the time being, McDermott has replaced self-medication with meditation. He spurns drink and drugs for time with family and friends. He rebuffs a one-time flirtation with priesthood with forthright self-reexamination about faith.


"Knocked Down"

Two days of riding shotgun in a Yellow Cab

Started Talking to a priest right outside a meth lab

I did not say what I was trying to do

I said, "Hell is arbitrary, it's a point of view"

I think he got it

I think he understood

I'm pretty sure he knew

That I was up to no good

Then I gave him a hug

went right in

Sometimes you find heaven

in a place of sin

Hallelujah

Boy, it's never enough

That which doesn't kill you, man

It makes you tough

Then I'm the toughest thing goin' baby, pound for pound

I know a thing or two about being knocked down


"This World Will Break Your Heart" just breaks my heart in a thousand different ways. You need all the lyrics to understand this song. Get it and listen it.


"Never Goin' Down Again"

At Your door is 1984

Who knows what will happen now

These are dangerous days

They say, "Wake up, boy, your time is running out"

Tonight I'm ready for fighting

I'm ready to take one on the chin

Got me a heart that's fueled by love and lightning

For the first time it feels, I'm odds on to win

I'm never goin' down again

I'm never goin' down again

I won't be pushed around

I'm gonna stand my ground

I'm never goin' down again


"It’s been like a new life for me, like you learn everything again -- how to look people in the eye, how to have a conversations with people." McDermott says. "You have to be dogged in your efforts to be real and be true."


"Sideways"

Something sent me sideways

The way it always seems to do

When you don't feel much like talking

And you're feeling a little blue

From Gethsemane to Willow Springs

to eastern Timbuktu

Something sent me sideways

Babe, I'm coming,

I'm coming home to you

"This World Will Break Your Heart"

Love's Middle Name by Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles

I remembered Sarah Borges from a decade back or so. I think I'm going to remember her with a lot more clarity now that she's back. This CD and a live show I attended go a long way to solidifying her as one of my new old favorites.


"Girlie Book"

And her sister with her satin looks

She had me once, you know that was all it took

I’ve been trying to tell you

That I’ll be leaving soon

I’ll send you a postcard from nowhere

That I’ll write by the light of the moon


Borges describes her sound as “straight up rock and roll, but it’s the sum total of what my record collection looks like. The new record is certainly more Americana than the last one was. It’s also more rock than the last record. I would say that it’s a version of the live shows – a lot of loud guitars and loud singing. You can certainly dance to it.”

Since the last record, she's divorced and raising a son as a single mother. Some of that past, present, and possible future surely informs this new set of songs.


"House on the Hill"

Coming home today

I drove slow

the long way

I turned left when I should've turned right

Playing fast and loose with the fading light

I wonder if you're home

I didn't want to chance it on the telephone

I'm afraid it had started to give

In this home where we used to live


Talking about her producer and a gutiar player on the album, Eric "Roscoe" Ambel, Borges says, “Roscoe has zero interest in fancy. He likes to capture the best in its tracks. That suits me just fine. Life isn’t a dress rehearsal, so let’s get on with and melt some faces already.”


"Let Me Try It"

He'll want to steal my money so I have something to drink about

Otherwise I'll just be a lady with red blood stains all over her mouth

There ain’t nothing that I would not be able to forgive you for

Except for making me look in the mirror if you were to walk out that door.


What makes this CD really stand out is that there isn't a weak song or a filler in the entire ten song list.

"House on a Hill"

The Eclipse Sessions by John Hiatt

When John Hiatt played a show at the Station Inn during AmericanaFest, the silence and rapt attention of the crowd became the talk of the festival and well after. Hiatt's aware that he may have reached a point in his career where things are changing.


"Cry to Me"

Getting dark and it feels like trouble
Heating up just like the fallin' evening rain
Tongues so sharp they could burst any bubble
Nobody wants to talk about all that pain
They're all having fun playing with your feelings
You can't control it, it just breaks your heart
Dirty double crosses done with underhanded dealings
When all you ever wanted was a place to start


“You’re the last one to notice if you’re growing or changing, for better or for worse,” says John Hiatt, during a break from a recording session. “It’s usually the people around you that it’s more obvious to, if you catch my drift.”


"Hide Your Tears"

Hide your tears out in plain sight

Hide your tears to catch the light
Show your tears to all your friends
Then go and hide your tears again

I don't spend too many days
Thinking about the reckless ways
A man tries to outrun his death
Or a broken heart runs out of breath


“I wasn’t sure what kind of recording I wanted to do, to be honest with you,” he says. “I was thinking about doing a solo record, just me and acoustic guitar. So I didn’t really have a plan, in other words.”


"Robber's Highway"

I lost my brothers, I lost my friends
Only one way this thing ends
Cheap and dirty in a bad motel
Wondering what it was you used to do so well

I had words, chords and strings
Now I don't have any of these things
Come and get me, Jesus, I don't know
Come and get me 'cause I can't go


“I felt like I was in some sort of different territory, just as a human. I’ll be 66 in a couple weeks. Dealing with being someone I’ve never been before, in terms of age, kids getting older, things changing,” he says. “People in my life are gone. You reach the age where your friends start dying. So "The Eclipse Sessions" has a lot to do with those sorts of things, just being in a different place.”


"Over the Hill"

I'm long in the tooth, and what can I say
I've taken huge bites of life and I ate the bones
The gristle and mellow feeds my soul
Gives me the strength to forgive all the sticks and stones

...

I hear a distant cry
A tear forms in your eye
For the way things might have been
We can't live that again
No time to fill the cup
No time to screw it up
We'll have to place our bets
On a door with no regrets

"Nothing in My Heart"

Call Me Lucky by Chris Smither

Recorded at the gorgeous Blue Rock Studio just outside Austin, "Call Me Lucky" features Chris’ long-time producer and multi-instrumentalist David Goodrich, drummer Billy Conway (Morphine), Matt Lorenz (aka The Suitcase Junket), and engineer Keith Gary. The four went in to record ten songs, but they ended up with a double record, one disc features the eight originals and two covers they started with, and disc two features the band and Chris essentially covering Smither's own songs themselves.


"The Blame's on Me"

They call me lucky, but I don’t know why
I ain’t been lucky since the day you said goodbye
This is the most luck I ever had
If this is good luck, don’t show me bad

They call me crazy, and it might be true
Ain’t nothin’ crazy ‘bout the way I feel for you
You drove me crazy walkin’ out the door
I don’t think I’m crazy
I don’t think no more


"I’ve worked with Chris on a number of records over the past several years and I had a special feeling about this one going in," producer David Goodrich said. "I didn’t send out any roughs or lyrics to the guys ahead of time. I had a feeling. We walked in to the studio and it became evident the ten songs were the foundation of something bigger.”


"Too Bad, So Sad"

If I need someone to help me, someone to show me how
Don't tell me that it's way too late if I don't know by now
Too bad, so sad, so long
This old dog's got some new tricks
Don't tell me how to sing my song

I'm better than I used to be, I keep it in the day
The "will" aint happened yet, and the "was" is way past help anyway
What it is is what you see
Home is where the heart is, right now feels like home to me
Home is where the heart is, right now feels like home to me


Given where Chris is in his life, he deals a lot in these songs with coming to grips with being creative and original after writing and recording over 80 songs.


"Down to the Sound"

It all comes down to the sound
And when you can't find a key
Spin it around on the common ground
'til it sounds like me

When It sounds like me I almost hear my name
It seems like a picture slippin' out of it's frame
Takes most of your wishes to make it come true
They're mostly free, but you pay for a few


Smither's songs are rarely overtly political but often touch upon situations and phenomena in our current culture. "Nobody's Home" touches upon a lot of them in Chris's deft tongue-in-cheek lyrical stylings.


"Nobody Home"

I saw a big white house down on Pennsylvania Avenue
I said, "open up the gate, this can't wait." They said, "Who are you?"
I said I was a citizen tryin' to cut a deal,
on a Russian unicycle with a missin' wheel
They let me through
I saw a clown with a combover tryin' to float a loan
through the CIA while he tweeted on his phone.
There was nobody home
There was nobody home

"Nobody Home"

Lifers by Cody Jinks

Jinks' "I'm Not the Devil" was in my top ten in 2016. That CD was a real surprise for me. I had never heard of Jinks and had no idea what to expect. Every song I heard made me a bigger fan. "Lifers" is no surprise as it continues my admiration for his songwriting and performing.

Jinks himself admits, "Devil was definitely a turning point for us. The record before that, Adobe Sessions, we started seeing a lift. Then when we put Devil out we’re selling out the Ryman. None of that was expected. I’ve been doing this a long time and it’s as shocking for me as it is anybody else."


"Colorado"

I look back to when we carved our names in marble
On an aspen by the cabin where we stayed
And I wonder if that tree's still strong and standin'
Despite the broken promises we made

Don't think that I don't think about Colorado
It's about the only thing I ever do
Don't think that I don't think about Colorado
Don't think I ain't thinkin' 'bout you


This album seems to be about changes that are not always for the better. There's a feeling of alienation is some of the songs.


"Stranger"

Who's this stranger in the mirror
The one that's lookin' back at me?
He ain't familiar, I don't know this guy
Who in the world could it be?
It ain't me, there ain't no way
And the stranger is gettin' stranger everyday

The guy I'm lookin' for, he's a young man
He ain't scarred-up and gettin' old
He's a good kid from the country
Your eyes are big-city-cold
It ain't me, there ain't no way
And the stranger is gettin' stranger everyday


"It makes complete sense that I'm at this place in my life. Country music found me when I was young and chased me down as I grew older," he says."


"7th Floor"

I shook hands with deception when I saw through their empty eyes
I broke bread with the burdens of everything that I despise
Dug my own graves and I've thrown caution to the wind
Become a slave to the wicked ways of men
To get to you

It's what I do
To get to you
It's what I do
To get to you

I wish I hadn't waged the wars on the weakness of my fears
But it was worth the wait just to be standin' here
Singin' to the heavens as they fill up my mind
Standin' on the seventh floor of everything I left behind
To get to you


The touring schedule and pressure to perform up to his own expectations may have taken its toll recently when midway through a shortened set at SumTur Amphitheater on Omaha, Nebraska, Jinks told the crowd that he was dizzy. After four more songs, he couldn’t keep going.

“Hey guys, they’re gonna take me to the hospital,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and this has never happened. I’m not drunk or anything. I’m gonna make this up to you. I’m sorry.”

Omaha fans cheered him all the way to the ambulance. My guess is he won't have any trouble filling that arena next time.

"Can't Quit Enough"

Other Arrangements by Parker Millsap

Parker Millsap has put out four albums in the past six years. I'm not sure if he's one of my favorites yet, but three of them, "Parker Millsap;" The Very Last Day;" and "Other Arrangements" have made my annual top ten lists. Each one is different, but they all share the same feeling of being created by a young man much older in his musical influences than his years should have allowed.

Millsap has said he'd begun thinking differently about how he wanted his music to hit listeners' ears: "I wasn't trying to blow anybody's mind, just to get stuck in their head."

“A lot of the songs on the record I rewrote and rearranged multiple times before they became the versions you hear on the record,” he says, referring to the metaphorical connection to the album's title song.


"Other Arrangements"

Honey don't pencil me in
I ain't a sketch of a friend
Put my name down in pen
'Cause I ain't leavin'
Honey don't count me out
See I can still make you scream and shout
I've got you all figured out
Gonna get you believin'
Gonna get you believin'

But honey don't you tell me
That you've made other arrangements
I been out here all week
Hey I've been hittin' the pavement
And if you've got an excuse
Well honey, you can just save it
But honey don't you tell me
That you've made other arrangements
That you've made other arrangements


"I'm touring with a band, so I thought I better write something for these guys to play," Millsap explains how a bigger and electric sound came about. "I like writing songs I know my band will react to."

Early on, he started a cover band with classmate, Michael Rose who still plays bass with him today. Over the years he recruited musicians Daniel Foulks (fiddle) and Andrew Bones (Drums) to join his band.

He claims his girlfriend many have been behind the changes. “She’s got a real job, so she’d come home from work and I’d be home playing guitar and there’d be no light in the house, all the shades would be drawn. I was just in this cave, and she’d be like, ‘What are you doing?' It really quickly grew to something bigger in my mind, like, ‘Lighten up.'”


"Good Night"

It was a good day
After a long night
It was a good day
I sang the song right
It was a good day
To see the sunlight
It was a good day
To have a good night

We were lyin' down
Our bodies were bound
We were wound tight
Your chest rose and fell
Your breath cast a spell
Sounded just right
Went down on the street
I heard the shuffle of feet
Movin' through the moonlight
I heard someone shout
Somethin' about
How it was a good night


“Hopefully I’m having a little more fun every time. I think I am, even if it’s just because I get to play louder and scream a little more during each show,” he says. “For anyone who hasn’t experienced that, being able to scream at full-grown people and then they clap for you, it’s just magic.”


"Some People"

Some people gotta hate
Some people can't be nice
They gotta ventilate
They gotta tell me twice
Just how I've gotta change
Just how I've got it wrong
I think it's kinda strange
Just tryin' to save my soul
Some people

Some people need the cash
They need the sweet dinero
They got a big old stash
They ain't gotta none to share, though
Some people need some more
They can't be satisfied
So busy tryin' to score
They can't enjoy the ride
Some people

"Fine Line"

One Drop of Truth by The Wood Brothers

The Wood Brothers are a trio featuring two brothers Oliver and Chris Wood along with a fellow named Jano Rix.

I have been told I am behind the curve on these guys. I need to stop thinking the owners of the Nascar #21 car and catch up with "Loaded," "Smoke Ring Halo," and "Ways Not to Lose."


Laughin' or Crying"

She said she saw a big fat rat in the subway
Carryin' the key to the city
If that' not just a curse then I'll be
There's some things you just can't unsee

She said she saw an angel with a cigarette
Cursin' like a pirate while he's smokin' it
And if that's not just exquisite then what is it
If you don't look up then you miss it

She says things like that all of the time
You can't tell if she's laughin' or cryin'
Me I don't think she's lyin'
Laughin' or cryin'


"This is the freest album we’ve done, the most independent album we’ve done, and was the most fun we’ve ever had making a record,” says Oliver Wood. “And most importantly, this is the most purely Wood Brothers’ album we’ve ever made.”


"Strange As It Seems"

Well it's lonely in here he said
Points to his heart and his head
Puts on his best suit and his shined up shoes
And he climbs into bed

It's not as strange as it seems
When you want to meet the girl of your dreams

Well it's crazy out there she said
Turns off the TV set
Puts on her prettiest dress and her high heeled shoes
And she climbs into bed

She's got on her make up
And her hair's all fixed up
Yeah she's a beautiful sight
And she turns out the light

It's not as strange as it seems
When you want to meet the man of your dreams


I love this album. Every song sounds like at least half the instruments are not actual musical instruments but rather standard everyday items from your garage or your basement, maybe the kitchen. From reading, I gather that Chris Wood is a magical bass player who can create many of those sounds, but I've also seen Jano Rix holding many odd looking instruments which look only remotely musical.


"Seasick Emotions"

There's a voice in the rain
I wish it would speak in my ear
I never hear what it's saying

So I roll over again
Pull the sheets over my head
And all alone in my bed
Already lost in the wind

Sailing through a hurricane
Blowing my mind
Seasick emotions go around
And around and around and around
And around


While the songs on ‘One Drop of Truth’ achieve the goal of standing on their own, a few common themes did, inevitably, emerge. Water—whether in a teardrop, a storm, a river or a libation—was being used as a metaphor in the search for truth and happiness.


"One Drop of Truth"

Rather die thirsty
Than drowned in tears
Crying and drinking
My heart full of fear

Rather die hungry
Than feasting on lies
Give me one drop of truth
I cannot deny

"Can't Look Away"

Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing by J.P Harris

Born in Montgomery, Alabama in 1983, JP Harris doesn’t fancy himself so much a musician as he does a carpenter who writes country songs.

Leaving home at 14, he traveled the country, often alone, hitchhiking and hopping freight trains while making his living as a farm laborer, shepherd, woodsman, and carpenter, among many other titles.


"Runaway"

I was born a runaway
Leaving comes natural, that's what they say
I guess I never had the mind to pay
To stayin' nowhere long

I was born a runaway
After fourteen years, I did one day
I guess I never had the heart to stay
And do right by my wrongs


I knew little about Harris before seeing this CD popping up on a lot of top tens and "best ofs" for 2018. I was impressed with his expressive tremulous warble and some great guitar work by Old Crow Medicine Show's Chance McCoy and some slide guitar licks by Leroy Powell

“We took a counter-intuitive approach,” he says. “We had no pre-production. There were no rehearsals. We basically had a whole studio full of multi-instrumentalists, a six-piece band total, for the whole recording session. Everybody played at least two instruments. It was a really interesting way to do it and I think it helped us avoid anybody, including myself, overthinking the songs.”


"Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing"

Sometimes dogs bark at nothin'
Like when little kids start cussin'
They don't know why, they just do it 'cause they can
Sometimes a girl's heart gets busted
By a boy that she once trusted
Ain't no reason 'cept that he was born a man

Why does a lightning bug keep flashin'
Dyin' in the ditch with a burnin' passion
When all the other bugs have got their lovin' and gone?
How come there ain't no rhyme or reason
For why a big bright sun in the summer season
Can still leave a body feeling cold and all alone?


“I feel like I was trying to make this record for two or three years,” Harris says. “A lot of things changed in my life between when I made my previous album and when we decided to go into the studio last year to make this one. I felt like I had a very different approach to life and music in general.”


"When I Quit Drinkin'"

I spend most nights at home these days
I'm looking good, so my friends all say
When they see me
Which is kinda rare lately

Lord, when I quit drinkin'
All my mem'ries come back clear
And you'll find me weepin'
And sippin' off a bottle filled with tears
Bar mirror shows me
The old me that had your love back then
When I quit drinkin'
I start thinkin' about startin' up again

"JP's Florida Blues #1"

In the Meantime by Motel Mirrors

Motel Mirrors is not quite what used to be referred to as a "super group." Amy LaVere and John Paul Keith have had solo careers, Will Sexton, the younger brother of Dylan sideman, Charlie Sexton, has played solo and done a lot of session work in Austin, and happens to be married to LaVere. Shawn Zorn is a Memphis institution on drums. Theirs seems to be an amiable alliance meant to continue as long as it's rewarding. Judging from this newest album, I'd say it continues to be rewarding.

"I Wouldn't Dream of It"

Oh, I couldn't dream of it
your lips never kissing me
Oh, I couldn't fathom it
you ever stopped missing me
Or imagine a day in my life without you
Oh, I wouldn't dream of it, Oh, I wouldn't dream of it

Oh, I wouldn't dream of it
your hand letting go of me
Oh, I couldn't think of it
your arms never holding me
Oh, I'd never dream of things I might do
No, I wouldn't dream of it


There is a sweetness and sincerity to these songs despite the content which conveys more than one might expect given the melodic delivery. Lavere's coquettish croon as effective in the blues as it is in a country ballad and Keith's straighforward lilt carry this collection with an irresistable charm.


"Let Me Be Sweet to You"

Good things can't all last forever
But all I want you to do
is unfold those arms again, girl
and let me be sweet to you

I keep on looking at pictures
that you used to send to me
wishing that I was whoever
it is you wish that I could be

I'm turning to walk away now
if that's how it has to go
'll leave if you tell me I'm leaving
But I'll be walking slow


There's a wonderful retro mix of when rhythm, blues and country were producing early rock standards, all managed with an updated sensibility.


"Remember When You Gave a Damn"

You're the one who followed me home
Said you'd wait wherever I roam
You know me, you know what I am
But do you remember when you gave a damn

Who was I and oh, who were you
I really don't know, I don't think you do
knowing one's destiny may all be a sham
But do you remember when you gave a damn

"In the Meantime"

Honorable Mentions:

Loversity by Sam Lewis

Widdershins by Grant Lee Phillips

Karma for Cheap by Aaron lee Tasjan

Runaway by Passenger

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