Tag Archives: tribute album

Under The Radar: Rainer Ptacek

I can’t say that my friend Bill ever dragged me to a concert, since I trust his musical ear so much I get excited about anyone he insists that I witness. But let’s just say that on this particular Saturday afternoon fifteen years or more ago, I was ambivalent but willing. The artist’s name conjured up jazz or perhaps obtuse folk, and that wasn’t what I was hungry for that day. But it was Bill…so I saddled up without a second thought.

I don’t remember the event itself, but there was some sort of afternoon festival going on in Syracuse where Rainer Ptacek was playing, and I remember being equally bewildered by the booking as I was spellbound by his talent. I got a closer look that night when he played in a tiny club and blew my mind a second time. And after that my immediate mission was to get my hands on anything and everything he had released.

It was as much how he played the blues as what he played – a unique finger-picking, pawing slide attack that wrung tears out of the steel guitar. But the man was quiet and humble, almost deflecting the enthusiastic reception back into the crowd…as if it was all part of the gift that they should take away with them rather than an accolade that he earned and deserved.

Sadly, he was soon diagnosed with a cancerous tumor, and like most musicians, had no health insurance. It came as a surprise to his friends who rallied around him and arranged benefit shos and projects. One result was a tribute album called The Inner Flame, which he participated on alongside several stellar artists. Only a few months later, Rainer passed away.

Here are my words from the magazine TransAction in 1997…

Rainer Ptacek is arguably an acquired taste, but it’s obvious that the music community valued his keen insight and marvelous introspective vision. Master of the steel guitar and dobro, his records with Das Combo are thrilling, and as a live performer he was both generous and unique. Sadly, Rainer could not overcome brain cancer and has left us, but this tribute (recorded before his recent death to help raise funds for his battle) is a great document.

You would expect heartfelt versions from people like Vic Chestnutt and Victoria Williams, two fellow musicians who know about physical suffering, but the surprise of the disc has to be Lemonhead Evan Dando’s “Rudy With A Flashlight”, which might just be the best thing he has ever done. Robert Plant, Emmylou Harris and Rainer’s partner Howe Gelb are among the cross section of first rate contributors.

I don’t know what made me think of this today, but once I did I knew I had to share it. Odds are you haven’t heard the man, and I hope you’ll at least be ambivalent but willing to give him a try.

Rainer Ptacek MySpace site

The Inner Flame available at Amazon

Live album from Rainer

Rainer on Jools Holland performing “Life is Fine”.

1 Comment

Filed under Features and Interviews, Music, Reviews

T.G.I.F. – Let It Beatle!

I’ve tipped my sizeable cap to Angelo at Power Pop Criminals before; he is an amazingly creative guy with an encyclopedic knowledge of the genre. He’s gone to great lengths to assemble some intriguing virtual tribute albums over the years. Recently he launched the last of his Tribute To The Fab Four series that he started in 2007 – reassembling the original albums with cover versions of each track. As he says, without the Beatles, there would be no powerpop music.

Of course, there are quite a few Beatle tributes on the market, everything from reggae to bluegrass to avant-garde interpretations to straight-ahead homage (like the recent efforts from The Smithereens). But these truly are a labor of love, and although you might not be a fan of every track, I promise you will be rewarded if you check them out.  I think album-to-album they’re as good or better than the commercially assembled releases.

Sure, some of the bands are extremely obscure, even to powerpop fans who dig deep. But you’ll also find a ton of great Beatle covers from famous artists like The Hollies, The Flamin’ Groovies, Aerosmith and Roger McGuinn, and even a couple from one (or two) hit wonders like Moon Martin and The Cyrkle.

Best of all, you’ll hear from many great bands that aren’t household names but are revered by powerpop fans, and rightfully so:  Cotton Mather, Ross Rice, The Blow Pops, The Quick, Walter Clevenger and The Shazam to name but a few.  (And if and when you do get turned onto some new bands in the process, maybe that album or two you purchase from them – you will, won’t you? – makes their day too.)

You’ll need Windows RAR software to unpack the files, you can download that here. And you’ll need the password, which is listed on each tribute page.

So pay it forward…and Thank God It’s Friday. Here’s a ten-spot, thanks to Angelo:

ppc beatles

Please Please Me

With The Beatles

A Hard Day’s Night

1965 / Beatles For Sale

Revolver

Rubber Soul

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Abbey Road

The White Album

Let It Be

animbeatles

3 Comments

Filed under Features and Interviews, Music

Tributes

I got a couple of emails from readers of yesterday’s post who were loving the Beatles cover comp and asking about tributes, since I’m on record as an obsessive fan of such efforts. On more than one occasion I’ve made my mixtape entry a covers collection (even pilfering a Replacements track title – I’LL BE YOU – for one of the more recent efforts) and I always love when I get them in return. (I’ll have to dig up that comp and post it here in the near future.)

I’ve found that the best ones are usually from independent projects on small labels where the scope will go outside the artist roster. By licensing tracks from other worthy bands that would appeal to the same audience as the internal ringers, the label is saying “we are putting the project first” rather than “this is a cheesey effort to get even the crappiest band on my roster some attention“. Frankly few of these get airplay anyway, so those weaker efforts just wind up in the band’s garage where they belong.

The major labels often blow it as well; too often their efforts wind up using big name artists that have no clue. Of course, with their overhead mapped against the unlikely hit potential, these are not frequent releases. But like the tiny labels trying to build around one good band with filler, the big boys have proven that they’re equally adept at creating a PLE (painful listening experience).

A list of the greatest tribute albums ever deserves more time and thought than I have to spare right now, but I do want to float out a couple of my favorites as well as clue you in to a little known collection assembled by a fellow blogger. These aren’t necessarily the five best, although my favorite tribute ever is included. 

Winner and still champion

Winner and still champion

SING HOLLIES IN REVERSE (eggBert): A majestic collection of power-pop artists including Bill Lloyd, Jon Brion, The Wondermints, Mitch Easter, Tommy Keene and Material Issue. Compiled by the late Greg Dwinnell, this was an all-hits no-misses effort where even the artwork and liner notes were first rate. Greg’s eggBert label also issued a wonderful Bee Gees tribute called MELODY FAIR that was almost as good.

Kovering the Klassics

Kovering the Klassics

THIS IS WHERE I BELONG (Rykodisc): Steve Forbert, Jonathan Richman, Bill Lloyd (the KING of tribute album appearances), Fastball, Fountains of Wayne, Cracker, Minus 5…a solid list of great commercial bands drawing from one of the Koolest Katalogues around. A little better than GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT, which was released around the same time, although “Ring The Bells” by The Model Rockets from the latter might be the best cut of all. (If you can find a copy of SHANGRI-LA on Communion Records, that’s also highly recommended! (Note – if you listen to the Amazon clips, realize that the matchup of artist and song is incorrect).

Whipped Gum and Other Delights

Whipped Gum and Other Delights

RIGHT TO CHEWS (Not Lame): For the bubblegum pop listener in all of us, Not Lame’s impeccable release was complied by John Borack (longtime reviewer and author of Shake Some Action) and features some of the best artists in the current power-pop scene.  Great takes on The 1910 Fruitgum Company, The Ohio Express and Tommy Rowe by Michael Carpenter (genius) , Walter Clevenger (ditto), The Lolas and others. Not Lame has released several great tribute albums for artists as diverse as Gene Clark, Jeff Lynne/ELO and The Cars, among others; every one of them has several chestnuts worth roasting.

Bone Up on these great covers

Bone Up on these great covers

While you’re waiting foa any of the above to arrive in the mail, why not enjoy a great tribute mix right now? Angelo from Power Pop Criminals assembled these brilliant cover comps that are available as free downloads. And on that same page, the excellent rarity and out-of-print Bobby Fuller Four tribute OUR FAVORITE TEXAN.

Leave a comment

Filed under Music, Reviews