Rainer – Worried Spirits 2017 / 25th Anniversary Edition (Fire Records)

(Corrected, Remastered & Expanded) Explained:

(June 12th, 2017) When Tucson, Arizona based guitarist, the late Rainer Ptacek signed with the British Demon Records label early in 1992 he was already hard at work on a secretive project with ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons. Those sessions would be released in 1993 as the Rainer & Das Combo album The Texas Tapes. In the meantime, Rainer had something else on his mind, something much more intimate than the hard rocking heavily produced sounds of the Gibbons sessions.

During July of 1992, with Das Combo drummer Ralph Gilmore offering the use of his converted garage studio, Rainer set up to record alone, with the goal of stripping his songs down to their bare essence. After much experimenting, he finally chose a set-up that involved facing into a single stereo microphone in front of a full-length mirror surrounded by blankets, candles providing the only illumination.

With everything now to his liking, recording went relatively quickly, producing a set of original compositions, a handful of covers and one tune co-written with Billy Gibbons (using the pseudonym “Justis Walkert”), a version of which also features on The Texas Tapes. Fifteen tunes in all were selected and sequenced.

Upon its fall ’92 release in the UK, Worried Spirits was immediately embraced by the British press, garnering high praise from all corners. Keep in mind the fact that Rainer was not new to Brits, having released Barefoot Rock with… Rainer and Das Combo on the Making Waves label in 1986. That album made many “best of” lists at the time. (Fire Records issued a remastered and expanded version of Barefoot Rock… in 2013.) Also of consequence were his collaborations with Howe Gelb, Giant Sand & The Band of Blackie Ranchette.

Rainer arrived in England early in ‘93 for a brief tour involving a radio appearance and a trio of shows in London. On the radio program he was interviewed and performed several songs, not knowing, of course, that Robert Plant happened to be listening in. Plant jotted down Rainer’s name and contacted Demon to find out where he was playing. They met and became fast friends, Plant inviting Rainer back to England in April to record with him. Several of those songs were later issued as B-sides for Plant’s Fate Of Nations singles. Two brief video clips of the session (from a Robert Plant documentary) can be found on YouTube.

Also listening in to the interview was film director Paul Gruebel Lee who contacted Rainer and invited him back to England to record music for the soundtrack to a BBC Arts/Arena Films production “Curse of The Firebeetle” which was accomplished by Rainer improvising while viewing scenes from the film. During the same trip in July ‘93 Rainer appeared on the Jools Holland TV program Later (the clip is also available on YouTube).

Worried Spirits was digitally recorded with borrowed equipment, no budget and no expectations. All the while Rainer maintained his day job repairing musical instruments in his basement shop at Tucson’s fabled Chicago Store.

Rainer’s instincts were rarely wrong, wise beyond his 41 years at the time, and time has shown that Worried Spirits sounds as fresh and relevant today as it did when it was recorded.

In fact, the album has never sounded better. As it turns out, early digital recordings were often plagued by “DC offset”, a technical issue dealing with the limitations of early digital/analog converters which was discovered during the remastering process. This problem has been corrected and for the first time Worried Spirits is being released completely “in focus” with all the headroom and depth of sound Rainer originally intended.

Included in the bonus second disc are twelve tracks from three different sessions, all but four tracks are previously unissued. Track one was released on a compilation of Tucson artists and the last three were originally released (as “From the Arizona Tapes”) to fill out The Texas Tapes compact disc.

Worried Spirits would be the only solo vocal acoustic album released by Rainer during his lifetime, which was cut short in 1997. Whether you are a long-time fan of the album or if you are coming to it for the first time in 2017, you will find something new and rewarding in the listening experience.

David LaRussa

May 30, 2017

 

 

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