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Anarchy in the USA
Ike Reilly finds new plots for his Assassination
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The Ike Reilly's Assassination official Web site

The Ike Reilly Assassination, America's best kept secret. By Matt Ashare.

When Ike Reilly’s tour bus caught fire in Iowa on February 3, the 46th anniversary of Buddy Holly’s death, in a place not far from the field where the plane carrying Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens crashed, the Midwestern songwriter found in the flames a spark of inspiration. "I decided I was going to write a ‘girl’ song," he explains over the phone from his home in Libertyville, Illinois (pop.: next to nothing). "I’d never written one before, with a girl’s name in the title like Holly used to. So I took a Peggy Sue–type name."

He’s talking about "Kara Dean," one of the more lethally hooky tracks on the Ike Reilly Assassination’s new Junkie Faithful (Rock Ridge). The track, which has Reilly strumming upbeat acoustic guitar as fellow Assassin Phil Karnats’s electric guitar tangles with Ed Tinley’s, was supposed to be about a guy whose gal loves him despite his less savory qualities. But straightforward love songs just aren’t in Reilly’s DNA. The song, he admits with a laugh, "came out being all about lust and failure" — two topics he’s intimate with, having spent years in a series of soul-numbing jobs before, at age 38, signing with Universal. He opened doors for rich folks, dug graves for dead ones, and hungered to be heard. In his spare time, he wrote about the upper-crusters and down-and-outers of his workaday life — "romancing the drudgery" is how he describes it — and waited for his door to open. In 2001, it finally did when Universal released Salesmen and Racists, which despite getting lost in the company’s subsequent mega-merger planted the seeds of a growing cult of passionate fans who appreciate whip-smart lyrics, prankster attitude, Beckish beats, barbed-wire guitars, and a literate sense of melancholy.

Junkie Faithful again draws noisy inspiration from quiet desperation. The disc follows up the folk-punk noir of last year’s Sparkle the Finish (Rock Ridge) with songs populated by lowlifes, hustlers, and have-nots dazed by despair, embittered by regret, and hardened by circumstance. Ever the sardonic observer, Reilly takes it all in from the shadows. His words, like his personae, shift, bob, and weave, from sage to fool to jester to street-corner prophet. "Somewhere between dreams and fear is life," he sings with sour knowingness on "Devil’s Valentine." On the Dylan-esque meditation "God and Money," he seems to be talking to himself as much as the listener when he warns against being too hard on oneself. "Trample on your yesterdays, but never your tomorrows," he sings with a ray of hope. Indeed, Junkie Faithful feels like an album-length exposition on the Stones’ "You Can’t Always Get What You Want," where cutting one’s losses and celebrating small, hard-won victories are the only things a poor boy can do. Even on "Heroin" (not the Lou Reed tune), a prickly taboo leads to ruminations on universal human frailty. "I want to create something that will be listened to a long, long time from now," Reilly says, "because I can’t trust that we’re going to reach our audience right now. I just want to write the best songs I can before I have to choose to do something else."

If at 43 Reilly sounds as if he were racing against the clock, that may be because he’s become less complacent with age. Feeling like a pariah fuels his work. "My view is one of pure distrust of any institution — I think government, church, and schools suck the compassion out of people and politicize everything. I guess I’m slowly becoming more of an anarchist."

Ike Reilly Assassination + Suspect Device | Middle East upstairs, 472 Mass Ave, Cambridge | Oct 7 | 617.864.EAST.


Issue Date: September 30 - October 6, 2005
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