[27 September 2005]
There’s something downright Westerbergian about Ike Reilly. Like the erstwhile Replacements frontman, Paul Westerberg, Reilly is a roots-rocker at heart, with a raspy voice, a knack with a guitar hook and a Midwestern upbringing. Reilly may not have Westerberg’s pedigree (I’ll ignore W’s post-‘Mats work), but if Junkie Faithful is any indication, Reilly’s on his way to a solid career.
The dude’s also prolific—his second album, Sparkle in the Finish dropped less than a year ago. It was while touring behind that album that the IRA wrote most of Junkie Faithful. Many acts, when they reach album number three have run out of things to say and—especially when writing an album while touring—resort to lazy life-on-the-road tropes for song material. Reilly’s too keen a lyricist to fall into that trap, but some of the songs—and here’s why Junkie Faithful doesn’t merit a higher score from me—feel underwritten and unfinished. Besides, the way I see it, talk about the less-good-stuff early on, and then finish the review strong discussing JF‘s highlights. “Heroin” is chief among these offenders. With its low, throbbing guitar and phrases like “they traded love for heroin”, it accomplishes nothing that Lou Reed hasn’t done in his sleep. Similarly, “Devil’s Valentine” seems left at the rough draft stage. While’s it’s admirable of Reilly to deliver two albums less than a year apart, no one would begrudge him a few more weeks to flesh out Junkie Faithful‘s rougher patches.
Of course, most of the album seems to have spring from Reilly’s brain, fully formed. (Indeed, he says the album was easy to write and record.) “The Mixture” sounds like Wilco, had Jeff Tweedy not gotten adventurous, and Reilly tosses in some white-boy rap for good measure. Reilly also uses the tune as an opportunity get in touch with his inner Bob Dylan: his soulful bellow of the outro “Where were you?” stings every bit as much as Dylan’s “How does it feel?” from “Like a Rolling Stone”. For what it’s worth, he tries Springsteen on for size, too, chronicling down-and-out characters on “Edge of the Universe Café”.
Lest you think Reilly is merely an aper of the pillars of the American Trad Rock scene for the past 30 years—it’s not inconceivable to draw a straight line from Dylan to Springsteen to Westerberg to Reilly (though our man in question isn’t in the pantheon yet)—Reilly definitely has his own voice, and he’s a funny guy, to boot. On “Kara Dean”, he gives props to the woman who’s brave enough to love him, in spite of the fact that he’s a cad who “likes to watch [his] neighbor’s wife bend down slow to pull out weeds”. And Reilly claims the song is a sideways rewrite of Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue”. Wrap your brain around that.
Meanwhile, the titular character on the white-boy bluesy “Farm Girl” is either incredibly hardworking or a worker on loan from Spinal Tap’s Sex Farm, depending on how one interprets lines like “She’s got dirt in her nails/ And grass in her teeth”. And Reilly’s got a black comedy streak a mile wide: A kicky piano fuels “What a Day”, where Reilly’s narrator happily recounts, “The day we buried our mother/ Everybody got a new suit!” And when he promises “When you need me most I will not be found” on “I Will Let You Down” you can’t help but laugh at his frankness—he’s got his shit together enough to realize he’s a fuck-up, but not together enough to do anything about it.
Today’s American roots rock scene needs a smart-like like Reilly. Honest, incisive, funny—expect Reilly to become a fixture on the scene.