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If you browse Ike Reilly’s biography, you’re likely to think he’s a very serious guy. What else could you think about a guy who spent years working as a gravedigger and who majored in theology in college? A guy like that has to devote a lot of time to dwelling on some deep, dark mysteries. Spend time listening to his music, though, and you’ll find that Reilly spends an equal amount of time mixing humor, hope and joy into his deep, dark musings.
Reilly grew up in Libertyville, Illinois and graduated from Libertyville High School. He went to Marquette University in Milwaukee, and then he returned to Libertyville. He’s been there since, making his music in the vein of Chicagoland Americana, a blend of rock, R&B, folk, blues and even a little punk. It’s pugnacious music, well suited to the city of the big shoulders.
The latest album from Reilly and his band, The Assassination, is Born on Fire, a 13-track collection that was recorded predominantly at IV Lab in Chicago with Reilly and Assassination guitarist Phil Karnats doing the production chores. It’s an unabashedly grimy, music-fundamentalist album that serves up blues-rock romps like “Upper Mississippi River Valley Girl” and “Notes from the Denver International Airport,” oddly specific songs that get at Reilly’s strong sense of place and his irrepressible sense of humor.
If you want to look a little deeper, try the album’s title track, in which Reilly encourages his son to always maintain the unstoppable drive for adventure he was born with. It’s a pointedly loving song that, if you’re a father, will make you sob in your beer, but it’s also overflowing with hope and happiness. And it’s broad enough to have been included in a documentary about the late comedian Chris Farley, a college classmate of Reilly. As a song, it’s deeply personal, universal, optimistic and weightily pragmatic. In short, it’s suitably emblematic of everything Reilly brings to his music.