Various Artists - The Inner Flame (A Tribute to Rainer Ptacek)

by Ljubinko Zivkovic Rating:9 Release Date:2017-10-06

This is the third time around for this album, and each time there was a good reason for it. When Howe Gelb first prepared this compilation it was in 1996 and his bandmate and close friend Rainer Ptacek had been diagnosed with brain cancer. In his goal to raise money for the health costs to cover his the chemo and radiation treatments, Gelb decided to put this compilation together. Rainer lost that battle and afterwards, Gelb created a series of his saddest personal albums (witness The Hisser). Ten years later, Gelb expanded the list of artists involved, and on the 20th anniversary of Ptacek’s death, here comes the reissue of that expanded edition of Inner Flame.

Just taking a glance at the list of artists involves, shows the lengths Gelb went through for his friend. Ptacek obviously meant a lot to him personally, but also as a talented musician, as evidenced in his slide and dobro playing on Giant Sand albums, the only Das Combo album and five solo albums, two of which were tho only ones issued while he was among us. In a touching aside, Gelb recounts how he heartbreakingly watched his friend Ptacek suffer through his illness, yet still find the strength and determination to re-learn to play the guitar after his treatments. “Inner Flame” the title song, is the one Ptacek actually composed after he re-learned to play, and Gelb’s version incorporates both Ptacek’s voice and guitar.

In fact, Ptacek’s exemplary playing can be heard here on a number of tracks as it is incorporated in the versions of his songs by Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris and Madeleine Peyroux as well as the duet with Robert Plant, and trio with Joey Burns & John Convertino, now of Calexico. The care Gelb took in preparing both versions of this compilation is also shown in the list of participants. Along with those already mentioned, Plant is joined by Jimmy Page on “Rude World” as well as appearances by a diverse crowd, including Evan Dando, Grandaddy, PJ Harvey, Jonathan Richman and yet another great slide player and yet another victim of brain cancer, Chris Whitley.

But with all the love and care Gelb invested, what makes it an exceptional one is the fact that all involved treated Rainer’s material with the emotional element it deserves, including the all-time slacker Evan Dando, whose version of Ptacek’s “Rudy With A Flashlight” is one of the highlights here. Again, it involves Ptacek’s National guitar track. True remembrance.

If you missed this one first time around, here’s your chance to get a true tribute album done in a way tribute albums should be.

 

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