PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Ike Reilly: Born on Fire

In his 2015 offering, rock 'n' roll troubadour Ike Reilly defines the genre, and then some.

Ike Reilly

Born on Fire

Label: Rock Ridge
US Release Date: 2015-06-16
UK Release Date: 2015-06-16
Artist website

Ever since the release of his debut album Salesmen and Racists back in the day, it was clear that Ike Reilly would stray the way of the rock 'n' roll troubadour: never quite famous, but always the fringe realist demanding universal respect within his niche in the musical world. 15 years and six albums later — both with and without his band the Assassination — Reilly’s still got this description finely emblazoned on all that he does, acting as a true trailblazer of the industry in his own right. Crafting his own space somewhere between the cockles of rock and roll roots throughout the past decade and a half, his sound comes to a whole on the fantastic Born on Fire: a culmination of his years recording and performing that totally embrace his well-worn policy of “quality over quantity.”

As far as his overarching body of work is concerned, Reilly’s sonic indelibility only remains second fiddle to his astounding ability to craft a personal story and envelop it in song. It’s in tracks such as opener “Born on Fire”, from which the album takes its title, that it becomes evident why comparisons between Reilly and Bob Dylan don’t seem quite so alien. “I can’t leave you no money,” he forthrightly sings with a no-nonsense, at-ease rigidness to his vocal, “I can’t leave you no land / I can’t leave you no faith / I lost what little I had...But I can leave you this truth / Hold on to desire / And take your flames to the streets / ‘Cause you were born on fire". Ending the track with an expansive chorus, Reilly strikes a unique chord by wrapping a song in such forthright, auspicious favor.

Also of prominence among the more roots-flavored offerings on the record is “Am I Still the One For You”. At first featuring a simplistic acoustic melody stamped out by a guitar that evolves into full instrumentation with a clap-along groove, Reilly inhabits the song as snugly as a good winter coat. With a little grit, he delivers as many frank, often socially stringent truths to a perceived love, asking of them bluntly: “Am I still the one for you?” What truly makes the song shine is in the way that Reilly so easily takes on the song. By all means, it’s a relaxed, danceable folk rock-feeling number, but lyrically, it’s taken to a one-part optimism, two-parts cynicism area that Reilly and few other modern artists know how to occupy so comfortably.

Closing track “Paradise Lane” takes a similar route in those vocal regards as “Am I Still the One for You”, but culminates with the choral genius of the titular “Born on Fire”, with Tom Morello’s brilliant signature work on electric guitar driving it home as an easy rocker tinged with psychedelics not previously seen within Reilly’s 15 years of prolific work. Other tracks that are especially of note include the strong funk-driven groove of “Job Like That (Laselle & Grand)” and the DJ-led “Do the Death Slide!”, the latter of which strongly accentuates Reilly’s special knack for slipping into character before rocking out at full force. It isn’t that Reilly can go toe-to-toe and win with modern day incarnations of those whom he’s often compared to — artists like the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Bob Dylan — but that he could easily go head-to-head with them and still put up one heck of a fight. Born on Fire accentuates that fact to a great degree, and as far as this year’s rock offerings go, you’d be hard-pressed to find much better.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.