When The Spirit Is Worried – When Rainer Went Solo

Dave HendersonFirebrands

 

It’s the era of grunge. ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ and its accompanying video clip is a revealing slice of high school unconfidential. Tattoos and tantrums, guitars set to overload, America is all about Seattle’s rainy realism. It’s 1992. Nothing will ever be the same again.

 

Further South, the heat is on. Rainer Ptacek’s debut solo album was released – he’d already dallied with Das Combo and impressed both ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and Kurt Loder at Rolling Stone – “Quite delightfully rough but well worth hearing.” Alone, maybe a little lost. Rainer is soaked in the blues. Dripping with aching emotion.

 

“It was recorded in two days in a shed under the blazing sun of the Arizona desert, featuring nothing but Rainer´s voice and 1933 National Steel guitar, it is an album of intimate, slow-burning intensity,” exclaimed the Tuscon Citizen.

 

“He applies the methods of Robert Johnson or Skip James to modern times, exhibiting a dedication to the archaic that renders the usual questions of white-boy blues authenticity quite meaningless,“ reasoned The Independent.

 

“His touch is eerily authentic: a finger-picking country blues style that clanks and drifts out of time, intercut with a steel tube glissandi that soars like hope on the wings of a dove,” shrieked The Times.

 

It’s a million miles from Seattle. There’s no streetwise bravado, ‘Worried Spirits’ is all about life’s raw and rough experiences and what’s spat out the other side. ‘It’s A Long Way (To The Top Of The World)’ is a dead ringer for Ry Cooder circa ‘Boomer’s Story’ or ‘Into The Purple Valley’, and ‘Waves Of Sorrow’ does exactly what it says on the can – it’s a tearjerker that broods magnificently.
“He’s capable of reviving the archaic spirit of Bukka White and Son House with just the help of his reso-phonic National Steel, Rainer Ptacek must be remembered not only for his frisky rockabilly déjà-vu performed with the so called Das Combo, but mainly for ‘Worried Spirits’ (’92) and Nocturnes (’95): two blues gems, one of the best example of blues in the ‘90ss, lyric, harrowing and definitive like only a few other artist of the period could sound,” added No Depression magazine some years later.

“The highlight is a setting of Langston Hughes´s poem `Life Is Fine´, so harrowing that it´s fully five seconds after the last note dies away that you dare draw another breath,” gasped Mat Snow in Q magazine.
That interplay of Rainer’s soulful guitar and Hughes’ keenly observed words make for fine if abrasive bedfellows.

 

“`Worried Spirits´ is parched and beautiful – the true song of the desert,” concluded The Independent on Sunday.

 

Now with 14 out-takes and alternative versions, some 25 years later and 20 years since Rainer’s untimely death, ‘Worried Spirit’ still rattles and distorts with

 

Dave Henderson May, 2017