Ike Reilly Brings His Down-to-Earth, High-Energy Lyrical Rock to the Mercury
Ike Reilly is sort of the Midwestern Willie Nile. Their big four-on-the-floor rock anthems have a lot in common: catchy riffs, purist arrangements, first-class playing and heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics. Like Nile, Reilly looks back to Highway 61-era Dylan a lot, but also draws on the most dramatic side of Celtic balladry. He and his excellent band the Ike Reilly Assassination are in the midst of their summer tour, with a couple of Mercury Lounge gigs coming up. On July 16 they’re playing at 7 PM, and then at 10:30 PM on the 17th. General admission is $15.
Reilly’s latest album, Born on Fire, is streaming at Spotify. The opening, title track sets the stage with its meat-and-potatoes Irish rock tinges, hitting a jaunty, dancing 70s Springsteen groove fueled by Adam Krier’s piano and organ and the tersely intertwining, soul-infused guitars of Phil Karnats and Tommy O’Donnell. Job Like That (Lasalle and Grand) blends Blonde on Blonde sway with arena-soul bombast, a characteristic blend of sardonic humor and irrepressible blue-collar charm.
Underneath the Moon gives Reilly a ragtime-inflected launching pad for him to work a rakishly surrealist come-on with some unnamed girl. Do the Death Slide! is a goodnatured, riff-driven spoof of 60s soul dance numbers, infused with bluesy harmonica and sax. With its torrents of aphorisms and subtle political subtext, the folk-rock anthem Am I Still the One for You brings to mind Fred Gillen Jr. at his wordiest and most Dylanesque. Likewise, 2 Weeks of Work, 1 Night of Love builds a bleak teens New Depression milieu, with more of that honking blues harp:
Work clothes, party clothes, funeral suit
Got nowhere to, got nothing to wear them to
I think I’ll put on my father’s shirt
And think of the days I used to have work
I don’t need no mercy
From your heaven above…
Hanging Around is one of the album’s best tracks, making organ-driven garage-psych rock out of what’s essentially Merle Travis’ Sixteen Tons, a snide tale of a rank-and-file guy trying to seduce a devil in disguise from human resources. Notes from Denver International Airport sets a harried, harrassed post-9/11, pre-flight narrative to bluesy Highway 61 rock, with a droll faux-gospel interlude.
The album’s garagiest number is Black Kat, springboarding a feral solo from one of the guitarists. Let’s Live Like We’re Dying kicks off with a darkly oldtimey New Orleans blues sway, then takes on a Thirteenth Floor Elevators slink and rises to a mighty gospel crescendo. Upper Mississippi River Valley Girl segues out of it, a vividly twisted Midwestern carnival tableau. The album’s most noir moment is another subtly political number, Good Looking Boy, bookended around a searing fuzztone guitar solo. The album winds up with wryly amusing character study Paradise Lane, with whiplash guitar from Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello. If a clever turn of phrase set to a catchy hook is your thing, go see this guy.