Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pop Culture Buzz Alert -- Ike Reilly

Every once in a while you hear a band or a performer for the first time and it feels like your soul has been lifted up and your consciousness raised and you think you've known this music forever. The music just bowls you over; makes a lasting impression at first listen.

I felt that way when I heard Bruce Springsteen's first album, Greetings from Asbury Park, back when I was reviewing records for my college newspaper. And then the first time I heard Tom Waits doing his jazz-bo schtick in some tiny New Orleans club, teetering on the edge of sobriety and singing in a whisky tinged voice of bohemian shenigans he'd witnessed in the streets of Los Angeles. Both of them were keen observors of life's smallest but most significant moments.

And last week I picked up the lastest CD from a former Chicago doorman named Ike Reilly and it was as if I meeting a dear friend for the very first time...a guy I knew was gonna change my life...or at least make me see things in a new way. If you like barrelhouse rock 'n' roll sung by a wordsmith whose worldly-wise lyrics come spilling out of him like a jagged spear of lightning eager to strike the church steeple, check out Reilly's latest, Hard Luck Stories.

Like Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits, the main appeal of Reilly's songs are the vivid images they paint in your mind and the sense of humor they display. He sings his songs with a world-weary rasp and the same kind of untapped urgency that Springsteen brought to life on his debut album in songs like "Blinded By the Light" and "Spirit in the Night" Reilly's songs can barely contain the ideas they are expressing and they are backed by a roaring, road-hardened blues band, highlighted by a Farfisa organ and a wailing harmonica.
Here's a sample lyric from "The Girls in the Back Room":
They say your brother is a loaded pistol
some kind of former ranger,
got a disability check from his VA stuck in the chamber
still he roadside bombs are bursting
and forever he'll be thirsty
said that gulf water was (friggin') murky
he had drank it anyway
I saw him blowin that old marine band
with a charbroiled purple heart rattling in a bedpan

"Good Work" is a knowing wink at high school graduation ceremonies with their "after party" debaucheries and their even bigger early-morning blow-outs, the "after-after party-party". And "The Reformed Church of the Assault Rifle Band" chronicle's a relationship gone wrong when one partner finds true religion while the other finds a much different kind of redemption forming a rock band. It won't take you long to figure out which side Ike's taking.

A song that's getting some nice spins on WXPN, sung in tandem with Shooter Jennings, is called "The War on Terror and Drugs". And the poignant "Flowers On Down" shows Reilly can handle the nuances of regret and longing in a ballad format. There's really not a weak cut on the whole fine slab of acerbic greatness.
Read a review of his Khyber Pass performance on Saturday night, May 8th, here:

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