The Inner Flame: A
Tribute to Rainer Ptacek, out this week on the Fire label, rounds up the likes
of Vic Chesnutt, Robert Plant, PJ Harvey and others – including compilation
overseer Howe Gelb of Giant Sand – for a loving and emotional look at the late Tucson guitar maestro’s
By Mary Leary
It’s apt that a
compilation instigated by Howe Gelb (with whom Rainer Ptacek co-founded
post-punk combo Giant Sandworms) is as drenched in ice water as it is in fire.
Ptacek’s compositions tend to leave ample space for interpretation and
elaboration. Along with serendipity in its performer/song pairings, that helps
explain The Inner Flame‘s gracefully
integrated spectrum of voices.
The album was originally released in 1997 as a tribute
to/benefit for the slide player, who was struggling to survive brain cancer. As
with the original, the somewhat altered reissue from the Fire label reflects
Ptacek’s (and Gelb’s) open ears: Who invites P.J. Harvey, Madeleine Peyroux,
Robert Plant, and Vic Chesnutt to the same tea party? The congregation provides
as absorbing a listen as any of Hal Willner’s tributes; housing work that would
garner accolades if it sprang from the lips and fingers of Dave Alvin, Bob
Dylan, or the Knitters. Several tracks have been deleted, and seven added. Of
the latter, I wish Ptacek had lived to hear these versions of “Story Teller”
(John Wesley Harding) and “Junkpile” (Grandaddy).
Ptacek’s own roll through “Be Prepared” exemplifies his
merging of grit with molasses; performed with Joey Burns and John Convertino,
it’s assumedly one that didn’t make it onto Fire’s recent Roll Back the Years issue. The label, already in the process of
reissuing Giant Sand and Gelb’s back catalog, is committed to releasing
everything the late Ptacek recorded.