Whether you’re new to Libertyville’s Ike Reilly or you’ve been a fan for the last few decades — or fall somewhere in between — there are three things to know about him:
He’s a champion of the little guy. He’s not afraid to address touchier subjects. And he excels at telling a good story.
On his new full-length album, “Because the Angels,” out Friday, he revels in all three hallmarks of the Reilly legacy.
“I was taken out of my own head and my own town by my favorite albums — it still happens to me,” he said. “I hope that on top of being entertained, listeners hear something in the music that makes them consider somebody else’s plight, gives them a little joy and makes them feel less alone.”
Like the folk singers who first paved a path he loosely follows in his own original way, Reilly cushions the mirror he holds up to society with deliveries that are calm, catchy and arresting, albeit a little bit rowdy sometimes. But don’t be deceived by the folksy and country influences: His music is rooted in punk-rock rebellion.
From the album’s first line in “Little Messiahs” — “Who will sing these working blues for the working poor whose souls are oozing solvent as each day it passes on?” — he explores power structures and politics in the U.S.
“Who really will, if anybody, show a genuine interest in the well-being of all humans? It’s veiled and flawed, but it’s a mash-up of corrupt elections and rotten politicians and people leaning too hard on piety,” he explained.
As in most of his work, Reilly and his guitar traffic in stories about engaging and flawed characters throughout “Because the Angels.” Some are culled from his own experiences, and some are rooted in things he’s read, seen in films, overheard in a bar or watched play out around him. But for everything he writes, he said, there’s a catalyst in real life that draws him to go down that path in a song. Sometimes it’s politics, sometimes misplaced righteousness, sometimes a glorification of the past and sometimes purely the stumbles of human nature.
“I can’t imagine that you would be recording any kind of music if you were an artist worth a (expletive) and that stuff doesn’t work its way in,” he said. “This is what it is right now if you’re an American, and it’s what you’re dealing with. We’re in a civil war, really, and that seems to have worked its way into a lot of these songs.
“I have a responsibility to myself and the people I care about,” he continued. “If you’re going to spend this much time writing, you better say something about the time you live in.”
The tracks on this album are coated with the grime and grit of reality, but through that, the moments of beauty he finds shine through even brighter.
Reilly, ever reluctant to bask in praise, is quick to give a nod to his band The Ike Reilly Assassination — Phil Karnats on guitar, Dave Cottini on drums, Pete Cimbalo on bass and Adam Krier behind the keys.
“It’s a really musical record,” he said, “and I think it captures my band as nimble, versatile, ferocious and as interesting as they are.”
Reilly dropped two singles this summer prior to the full album release, one of which featured some surprise guests — his three sons, Shane, Kevin and Mickey. On “Trick of the Light,” listeners can hear the Reilly men swapping verses and converging on the singalong choruses. His boys, who hadn’t been part of his musical world until they were back in the family’s Libertyville home quarantining during the pandemic, joined him for his regular “Ike Reilly Family Quarantine Hour” livestreams. Now they’re featured on the album and will be joining him and his band on tour this fall.
“Yeah, ruin their lives, too,” he said, laughing. “Beg, borrow and steal.”
The Reilly boys and his band will be heading out on a Midwest tour this November to promote “Because the Angels,” including a stop at Lincoln Hall (2424 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago; $25) on Saturday, Dec. 4.
“It’s about the whole vibe. I’m looking forward to bringing this community — my band and, at times, my family — out there and just hoping the shows are super cathartic for people as a release valve,” he said. “Our shows have traditionally been pretty raucous. I hope the record gives people hope and makes them feel hopeful. … You gotta really look at where you are to try to see where you’re going in a hopeful way. I’ve got these songs about individual people, incidents that I hope reach people in a universal way.”