In November of 1997, in a small Mexican chapel in Tucson, I gathered with friends and family of the great slide guitarist Rainer Ptacek to pay our last respects. He'd succumbed to cancer, leaving behind an incredibly rich musical legacy as a solo artist, as frontman for hi-nrg blues band Das Combo and as a collaborator (with Giant Sand, Robert Plant, Emmylou Harris and ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, among many).
Two new anthologies cherry-pick the crème du Rainer, culled from his eight albums. The Rainer Collection (Evangeline, UK) gets the nod as its two discs contain all 17 cuts appearing on The Best Of Rainer: 17 Miracles (Glitterhouse, Germany); the latter originally was to have a bonus DVD but production issues intervened.
What made Rainer great? Frequently compared to Chris Whitley and Kelly Joe Phelps, he was actually more of an iconoclast in the vein of Ry Cooder or John Fahey. To see him perform with his array of unusual tunings and an elaborate tape loop system was to witness pure genius unfolding. Whether jamming out ensemble-wise (check the hypnotic groove-rock of "The Unseen Enemy," from 1986's Barefoot Rock) or performing acoustically on his beloved National Steel ("Instrumental #13," recorded shortly before his death, is the luminous wings of an angel framed against a sunset), he put every ounce of emotion he could muster into each note, each chord cluster.
Diligently annotated, The Rainer Collection also boasts four recently unearthed studio recordings from 1987. In particular, Jimmie Rodgers' "Miss The Mississippi" has a dreamlike quality showcasing Rainer's intensely soulful voice, while "Mush Mind Blues," a nasty electric thumper Rainer would also cut with Gibbons for 1993's The Texas Tapes, is just plain evil. You want your blues served up simultaneously raw and sensual? Here 'tis.