Ike Reilly: Born On Fire

Ike Reilly

Ike Reilly
Born On Fire
(Rock Ridge)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“I used to want to die young,” talk/sings Ike Reilly in his hangdog manner, then ends that thought with “but it’s too late now.” It’s a potent example of the skewed, dry, self-effacing humor that Reilly has been churning out over six previous albums, billed with or without his Assassination band.

Stiletto-sharp words and album titles such as Poison the Hit Parade and Salesmen & Racists don’t go far without similarly edgy music to back them up. That’s where Reilly and his group turn up the heat. His tough Tom Petty-styled rocking incorporates strong strains of blues (Reilly’s fiery harp playing has elements of Paul Butterfield), Replacements era gritty/melodic punk and just enough Highway 61 Revisited motor-mouth wordplay (“Am I Still The One For You”) to keep things interesting without sinking into the dreaded “Dylan-ish” subgenre.

The loose, tough, guitar play hits hard, especially when Reilly gets sexed up on the garage attack of “The Black Kat” in a rollicking performance reminiscent of the Stones in their ‘70s “Live With Me” heyday. He twists psychedelic guitar around the country inflected story of the “Upper Mississippi River Valley Girl” which, along with gospel backing vocals and a sing-along chorus, further expands its already impossible-to-pigeonhole sound. He introduces the darkly humorous funk rock of “Do The Death Slide!” with a Wolfman Jack impersonation that then shifts into an overdrive blues harp solo worthy of Little Walter.

Reilly’s harmonica skills roar as pop, rock and blues converge on “Two Weeks-a-Work, One Night-a-Love,” an existential tale of the blue collar worker filtered through the singer’s wry observations. A nod to Dylan’s stream of consciousness lyrics propel “Notes From Denver International Airport” which references cannibals in the bar at the titular place.

To say this is exciting, unpredictable, idiosyncratic American rock and roll is not to do it justice. Established cult Reilly fans might know what to expect, but even they will be thrilled with the sheer dynamic gusto and rollicking groove he unleashes. It’s pure, unaffected and raw, adjectives that have always described Reilly and result in this explosive album, the culmination of his extensive years in the trenches.