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POP MUSIC | POP EYE

Whole Lotta Love

June 29, 1997|Jerry Crowe

Robert Plant and Jimmy Page form one of the most famous teams in rock history.

But what about Robert Plant and Rainer Ptacek?

No one at Atlantic Records is predicting another Led Zeppelin, but the label is hoping to attract some attention for a new tribute album to Ptacek, an obscure, German-born songwriter, blues guitarist and dobro player.

Plant not only sings on two tracks, but he was also one of the motivating forces behind the project. Titled "The Inner Flame" and due July 8, the album also features such artists as Page, Polly Jean Harvey, Evan Dando and Emmylou Harris.

An avid blues fan, Plant discovered Ptacek's music about five years ago and recruited him to play dobro and write songs with the singer for Plant's 1993 album "Fate of Nations." The songs wound up as B-sides on five singles taken from the record.

"I was really very, very pleased to hear somebody who'd managed to actually expand on the pathos of the blues without ending up in some kind of wretched parody," Plant says. "I find that a lot of work in what you might loosely call the contemporary blues field is lacking in anything resembling uniqueness or even any bright ideas. . . ."

When Plant learned last year that the Tucson-based Ptacek was suffering from brain cancer and that Howe Gelb of the Arizona band Giant Sand was trying to put together a tribute album, he insisted on lending a hand and started recruiting other artists. A portion of the proceeds from "The Inner Flame" will help pay for the medical bills racked up by Ptacek, whose cancer is currently in remission after a series of radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

"It's not a collection that's cut out for straight pop radio," says Plant, "but it might introduce Rainer's individual work to people who enjoy music that's a little left of center. That would be great for him. He's working again and gradually pulling his life back together, and I'd like to think that maybe this record will allow him to broaden his horizons."

Ptacek, a 46-year-old father of three, couldn't be happier with the compilation.

"It's a wonderful thing, a really nice gift," he says. "What I'm overwhelmed by, besides their musical talents, is the love and kindness that's been shown to me by all these people on the record--and Robert especially."

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