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

First a benefit and now a tribute, Inner Flame is a fabulous presentation of songs by the late Rainer Ptacek, a German-born Tucsonan known the world over for his unique slide guitar playing.

This expanded reissue is an 18-song double-LP that explores different sides of an artist who was never easily boxed up. Coming to the blues as an outsider, Rainer's talent didn't sit still, reaching and roaming with a restless wonder that endures today.

Top tracks from the original 1997 record are the angelic Emmylou Harris singing "The Good Book," Vic and Tina Chesnutt giving a country-tinged duet on "Where's That At," the perfectly paired Robert Plant and Rainer playing swampy blues on "21 Years," and the torchy jazz of Madeleine Peyroux on "Life Is Fine."

Among the outstanding new tracks are Lucinda Williams' absolutely beautiful cover of "The Farm," a slowed version shining with her weary and wistful twang, and Chuck Prophet turning "Limit to It" into chug-along boogie rock, slinging fiery guitar licks and singing with a rugged sneer.

The album ends with Howe Gelb and his 'Sno Angel choir giving a stomping blues take on "That's How Things Get Done," and then Rainer once again, backed by Joey Burns and John Convertino, singing his bravely elegiac "Be Prepared," with his haunting slide guitar solo bringing the song and the album to its defiant, triumphant and incredible close.

Inner Flame celebrates the essence of Rainer's music, somewhere between mysterious and warm, exotic and familiar. It's Rainer's sad, beautiful music, as alive as ever.

More by Eric Swedlund

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