BY BARRY ST. VITUS
Ike Reilly strikes you as a guy that you don’t want to mess with, or you may wake up on the floor seeing stars encircle your head. He has the countenance of a tough, raw-boned, but wiry looking cowboy with a cool, steely gaze, but a ready laugh. In fact, Reilly is indeed cool, cooler than the other side of the pillow, cooler than ranch dressing right out of the fridge, and knowing that he was once a gravedigger, somehow doesn’t surprise. His music is highly atmospheric, reeking of booze, stale cigarettes and weed, and his lyrics reflect his skill as a masterful storyteller, a keen observer of life and its many injustices. His slambunctious band, the Ike Reilly Assassination, kicks serious ass like the ultimate bar band on steroids.
Reilly’s slightly gravely vocals are well suited for the gamut of music that he covers, and Born On Fire is a suitable prism that reflects a wide spectrum of his music. It’s been noted that every album he releases is his best to date, and that is indeed the case here, once again. One dead monkey don’t stop the circus, it’s been said, and Reilly suffered a terrible loss last year when 15 tracks he had recorded were destroyed and he had to start from scratch again to get this album together. Friends like Tom Morello (first release for his new Firebrand label) rallied and helped the band remake what was lost, so a lot of blood, sweat and real tears went into this thing.
It’s a frustrating challenge to clearly categorize or break many of his songs down into clear genres, as they all sort of melt and overflow into this puddle of ‘Ike-ness.’ The scope encompasses, punk, good old R&R, R&B, folk-rock, Chicago-style blues/soul, ballads and so on. One publication called Reilly “a genre-bending journeyman,” and a “rough around the edges Americana troubadour.” Of his rave-up review in American Songwriter magazine, he cracked, “I’m glad to be an American Songwriter, there’s a magazine for that. Is there Shit Husband or Bad Father or Broke Ass Loser Magazine?” His dark cynicism remains a constant attitude in his songwriting, i.e., the lyrics in “Let’s Live Like We’re Dyin’“:
I used to wanna die young,
I used to wanna die loud,
Maybe crash up in my car,
Or blow my own brains out,
I used to wanna die young,
But it’s too late now.”
He blasts his black and blues harp with the best of them on those Windy City blues tunes like this, and on “Do The Death Slide,” and “Two Weeks-a- Work, One Week-a-Love.” The title tune, “Born On Fire” swings over into being a pop love ballad; “Job Like That” has a hip-hop swagger going on; “Underneath The Moon” is sweetened more with its “Crimson & Clover” riff; and he invents a wild new dance with his “Do The Death Slide.” Another fine, slower tempo number is the lovely, “Am I Still The One For You.” Blue collar themes are a favorite of Ike’s, and both “2 Weeks-a-Work, 1 Night-a-Love” and “Hangin’ Around” are both working man’s R&B numbers, lamenting the bullshit American workers are subjected to these days. A traveler’s blues are rocked well in his “Notes From Denver International Airport.” The band also rocks out on “The Black Kat,” in which, he simply wants his kitty cat back, sharp claws and all, but you’re not sure if he’s referring to a feline friend or a female friend. “Upper Mississippi River Valley Girl” is a lubricated blues rocker, as is the mid-tempo “Good Lookin’ Boy,” with its tasty guitar bridge. The album wraps with Tom Morello sitting in on guitar on “Paradise Lane.”
The Ike Reilly Assassination is oft compared with old school outfits like Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones and even Dylan, but those are your dad’s bands, and Ike frankly blows their current manifestations out of the water. If you found that too hard to swallow, then I challenge you to a Rock Off. Play a recent release from those guys, followed by Born On Fire, and see which seems the most kick-ass.
DOWNLOAD: “The Black Kat” and “Do the Death Slide.“ “Let’s Live Like We’re Dyin'”