Singer/songwriters are a dime a dozen, but it's rare when one manages to create an individual persona as a rock 'n' roll storyteller of gritty, no-holds-barred slices of life.
Libertyville native Ike Reilly, who will appear at Chicago's Lincoln Hall Thursday with his band, The Ike Reilly Assassination, tells it like it is. Reilly presents a unique blend of bar-band Americana, lounge-pop, punk-blues, country and edgy rock to paint aural tales of misfits, ne'er-do-wells and ordinary folks.
"Hard Luck Stories" is his latest CD, a groove-oriented and melodic album of songs that live up to the title. Each number is a gem of darkly humorous imagery about people struggling with the day-to-day obstacles with which we all identify.
Or maybe not.
One tune, "Let it Grow," is about a father who gets arrested for cultivating marijuana in the home and loses custody of his daughter. "The Girls in the Back Room" features characters such as "mothers dressed like daughters doing the laundry of their daughters who all dress like stars."
"Usually a song is based on an image or a conversation," said Reilly, 47, speaking from his home in the Northwest suburbs. "The lyrics don't necessarily come first; I fuse the lyrics and the music at the same time. I would never write lyrics or music exclusively from the other."
And they really are story-songs that have beginnings, middles and ends. Reilly observed, "The new record is more that way. The group of songs we put on it are more linear stories, but they weren't all like that. We recorded 25 songs and picked the ones that had beginnings and endings."
Reilly draws from blues, folk and punk influences, as well as such acts as Lightnin' Hopkins, Bob Dylan, the Butterfield Blues Band and the Clash.
If there is such a thing as a Midwest sensibility in music, Reilly said it's definitely in his. "It would have to be there because the Midwest is where I am. I'm writing about Chicago. I stood on the street corner for 15 years (as a hotel doorman, before becoming a full-time musician), so that experience colors the songs. I write about people I see and hear, and for the most part they're in and around Chicago."
The "Hard Luck Stories Tour" begins in Chicago with a one time duel-act performance with Shooter Jennings (son of Waylon) and his band, Hierophant, and culminates at Lollapalooza on Aug. 8. One of the songs on the new CD, "The War on the Terror and the Drugs," features a duet by Reilly and Jennings.
Backing up Reilly in the Assassination are Tommy O'Donnell on guitar, "Pie Eyed" Pete Cimbalo on bass, Dave Cottini on drums and Ed Tinley on guitar and keyboards. Reilly plays guitar and harmonica.
"I played harmonica as a kid, but I didn't pick up a guitar until I was 22," he said. "The thing about making a living as a musician, either you can do it or you can't. If you don't have to do it, then don't do it. I don't like anything about it except the images and the songs. I do love playing in a band and I love performing.
"So many people now are skewed by 'American Idol' and think if you can cover a song it makes you great, but that's not why I got into it. The guys I play with, they live and die for this ... I wish I could just go and play tennis or something when I wake up every day, but I don't, I write songs. And when I write anything, I feel better."
With a laugh Reilly adds in his distinctive, raspy voice, "You do it because you do it and it allows you to function without the aid of cocaine or Lexapro or Zoloft!"
When: 9 p.m. Thursday, April 29
Where: Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago
Information: (773) 525-2501 or www.lincolnhallchicago.com