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I’ve been listening to the digital version of Ike Reilly’s new album Hard Luck Stories for a while now, and I’ve been really digging it; and it turns out there’s going to be a real, physical version with a couple bonus tracks — so that’s pretty cool. (See, I got the download from a promoter for free — so I might just go and end up buying the real one when it comes out February.) I’d been at least a casual fan of Ike’s since first discovering Cracker’s cover of “Duty Free” from their incredibly underrated record Countrysides; I loved their version, so I picked up Ike’s first record, Salesmen & Racists to see how the original was. And it was pretty good.
I never picked up most of his other records – though pretty much every song I’d heard (particularly the single “When Irish Eyes Are Burning” from We Belong to the Staggering Evening) was really strong. Crazy, huh? I’m going to have to remedy that, I do believe. The new Hard Luck Stories is an outstanding record.
Ike’s voice is somewhere between David Lowery of Cracker and Bob Dylan — he’s got the higher-but-gravellyness of Lowery and some of the vocal tics of Dylan, but not to the extremes that make you instantly think of either. Musically, he’s closer to Cracker (which makes sense, given not only “Duty Free”, but that Lowery guests on one of this album’s best tracks, but more on that later), but again, not to an instant leap extent either. He’s a bit more folk, but rock, too. Look, I can just keep saying gibberishy, conflicting things, or you can just trust me that he’s awesome, particularly if you dig Americana music.
There are lots of standouts on this record — I woke up this morning singing “Girls In The Backroom” and “Lights Out Anything Goes”. Both are really catchy, musically upbeat numbers with great lyrics. A lot of the tracks on Hard Luck Stories are, well, stories, and with a writer like Ike, it definitely works out very well.
My favorite is probably “The Ballad Of Jack and Haley” (the one with Lowery). The first time I heard it, I wasn’t paying much attention, so when the “Let it grow/let it grow/let it flower and turn gold/Let it flow into your lungs again” chorus came in, my first reaction was “Oh, a song about how awesome pot is. Great. Catchy, though, but, yeah.” But on further listens, I actually paid attention and it’s a moving story that functions as a brilliant argument on why marijuana should be at least decriminalized if not legalized outright. Jack’s a man who, due to lack of funds, starts growing and selling marijuana — but when his daughter Haley goes to school, the teacher smells it on her and calls the feds — busting Jack and taking Haley away, despite Jack being otherwise a good father loved by her. A frustrating situation that unfortunately may as well be written from real life, assuming Jack and Haley aren’t indeed real people.
The other major candidate for my favorite cut is “The Reformed Church of the Assault Rifle Band”, which if I didn’t already have a band name, I’d probably have to cop, unless someone’d already beat me to it. And, I dunno, if I ever record enough stuff to do a side project type thing, I just might have to. Of course, it’s not surprising that he’s got a great band name in a song — his band is the Ike Reilly Assassination, which, while I’ve never been a fan of band names that have the lead guy’s name in there, that’s about the best I’ve heard, just being different.
So, yeah — I know this has been a somewhat rambling review, but sometimes you hit a record that’s so great you just can’t really put together coherent thoughts. It just all wants to rush out at the same time, and so you get a mess — but a mess with, at least, an obvious thesis statement. Namely, CHECK THIS RECORD OUT. For reals.