Rainer Ptacek

Live at the Performance Center

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Although released posthumously, Live at the Performance Center is an ideal starting point to experience Rainer Ptacek's rather astounding use of both the dobro and steel guitar in the blues medium. In retrospect, this particular gig from June of 1997, recorded in his hometown of Tucson, is a decidedly bittersweet affair. Despite the excellent playing and the fact that Ptacek was in full remission from brain cancer at the time, the disease would ultimately take his life only five months later. Ptacek's diversity was on full display that night, with songs ranging from the upbeat picking of "Sometimes It's Hard" and "Inner Flame" to the more traditionally oriented "Lament of Love" and "Rude World." The guitarist sang on most of the tracks as well, and many of the lyrics, such as those for "The Mountain," reflect an almost prophetic uncertainty about life and the future, reminiscent of the sentiment that fueled Robert Johnson's work so many years earlier. Even the instrumentals somehow address mortality in a wordless way, from the darkly punned "Di Lantin" to perhaps one of the best unheralded Beatles covers of all time, George Harrison's "Within You Without You." Ptacek's strong versions of his original material and the inclusion of some rare covers -- he played songs by Billie Holiday and Willie Nelson as well -- make his only official live release an obvious purchase for fans of the artist. The fact that it is the final recorded document of possibly the most talented instrumentalist from the genre of the last generation makes it essential for all fans of acoustic blues.

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