Rainer: Roll Back the Years (Rainer Music Archive)

The work of brilliant blues-style guitarist Rainer Ptacek, a longtime Tucson musician before he passed away in 1997, has been featured on several posthumous releases, most notably Alpaca Lips (2000), The Farm (2002) and The Westwood Sessions, Vol. 1 (2007). This latest unearthed recording shows him in action with one of the best rhythm sections around: drummer John Convertino and bassist Joey Burns, then with Giant Sand and on the verge of becoming famous with Calexico.

It's a blessing to hear these beautiful recordings, which were tracked during the remission from the brain cancer that would take Rainer's life four months later. The sessions took place in writer Bill Carter's home in Tucson's Barrio Viejo in late July and early August of 1997, and you can hear the intimacy of the location. As it is each year at this time, it must've been the height of the Southwestern monsoon, and Rainer and the boys maintain a quiet storm throughout.

The 12 tracks here are split among then-new compositions and others that he'd been playing for years. The most moving cuts are those, such as the title track and the haunting "Di Lantin," on which he lets his Dobro or steel-bodied guitar do the talking. Among the handful of covers is "Sea of Heartbreak," a hit for Don Gibson in the 1950s; Rainer's version is utterly gorgeous. His playing is eloquent, perhaps made more poignant by the temporary reprieve from his illness and the time since passed for those of us in whose memories he still lives.

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