Hard luck stories. Everybody’s got them or heard them, but it takes a special mind and wit to share them with the lyrical dexterity and aplomb that have become the hallmarks (and trademarks) of Ike Reilly’s critically-lauded records. Reilly’s a raconteur; to be sure, his songs ache and explode with a gritty realism to which everyone can relate on some level. His latest solo offering, entitled “Hard Luck Stories” – a more groove-oriented and melodic album than previous recordings – is a combination of corroded R & B, furious punk-blues, lounge-pop and classic rock, all laced with giant choruses.
Even in light of the melodic assault of “Hard Luck Stories,” it is the stories themselves that make this Reilly’s most accessible recording to date. The tales, while unique to Reilly in the telling, paint a darkly humorous yet accurate picture of the universal compromise and struggle felt by many folks in America right now – people like the frazzled high school kid who’s competing for summer jobs and girls with his ex-coach, the compromising single father who loses custody of his little girl as he goes down for growing weed in their home, the young woman doing the best she can for her war veteran brother as he inadvertently terrorizes their community, and the indie rocker trying to sing a song that finally makes a little money.
“Hard Luck Stories” once again establishes Reilly as the premier storyteller, dark humorist and unique character in rock and roll. The lines between reality and fiction, and between narrator and character, have always been blurry with Reilly, but never more so than on “Hard Luck Stories.” In “Lights Out,” we hear the tale of a singer, an estranged father who bungles his attempts at saving his vision of family life and trying to solve problems – things as simple as power outages and as complicated as religious differences throw his world into disarray. Reilly sings out: “I think I better sing a song that finally makes a little money,” and, “I’m always mixing up the saviors and the fakers.” As with most of Reilly’s characters, flaws are plentiful and gallows humor saves the day. In “Lights Out,” the main character can’t even figure out why the power is shut down, what the problem really is, or if he ever even had one in the first place.
In a duet with Shooter Jennings entitled “The War On The Terror And The Drugs,” there is no mistaking that Reilly is playing himself, and that he and Shooter are in search of some mythical place, some mythical war and some mythical women, who will help them find that war and help them fight it, too. Inspired in part by the classic duet “Gone Fishin'” by Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong, “The War on the Terror and the Drugs” is not only a great minstrel tale, but the affection and friendship the two singers have for one another flows palpably out of the speakers.
Shooter Jennings is not the only guest on “Hard Luck Stories.” From the Libertyville (Ike’s Illinois hometown) High School Choir singing the chorus on Reilly’s “Summertime Blues”-inspired “Good Work,” to the blues legend Barrel House Chuck ripping the Farfisa and the Wurlitzer, to Pie Eyed Pete Cimbalo taking on bass duties while Assassination bassist Tommy O’Donnell makes his debut for Reilly on guitar, there are many guests. Johnny Hickman and David Lowery of the band Cracker also joined Reilly in the studio. Hickman drives the rhythm of the infectious “Girls in The Backroom” and plays a soaring and reckless outro lead that feeds the celebration of this instant single. Hickman also plays electric guitar on “The Ballad of Jack and Haley,” a song about a single father who gets busted for growing weed in his home and loses custody of his daughter. The unmistakable voice of Lowery helps carry the chorus as he and Reilly sing both about marijuana and longing to be reunited with a child.
“Hard Luck Stories” opens up with the lo-fi drum beat of “Morning Glory” as Reilly approaches the mic (literally walking into the studio and up to the mic as he’s strapping on that ratty acoustic) and sings:
Won’t ya listen girl to my hard luck story?
Won’t ya listen girl to my hard luck story?
After all the stories are told, Reilly suggests in the last lines of the final song that maybe we shouldn’t dwell on the negative, we should just live with it:
Let’s get off our knees
and hope for the best now,
Let’s not think about how
things are such a mess now…
“Hard Luck Stories” was recorded in Chicago and produced by Reilly and Ed Tinley. The album is being released digitally on November 24, 2009, by Rock Ridge Music.