The notion of authenticity is crucial to the effectiveness of singer-songwriters. Just ask Libertyville, Illinois native Ike Reilly, a grizzled artist as fringe-dwelling as the characters in his tunes.
After honing his skills in a variety of never-were bands in the late '80s/early '90s, the father of four gave up music and became a hotel doorman to pay the bills. When he finally earned a record deal -- thanks to the keen ear of one-half of the production duo the Dust Brothers -- his resulting 2001 debut, Salesmen and Racists, barely made a dent beyond the used-CD bin. Which was a shame, since Reilly's shadowy sketches of ne'er-do-wells and rapscallions -- all matched with deceptively cheery bar-blues smokiness -- should have made him a working-class hero. This year's Sparkle in the Finish, a less-polished sophomore effort, solidifies his reputation as a cult troubadour. The same deadbeat characters abound, from one looking to "find me a girl and some good cocaine" to a bank robber "only in it for the money . . . [and] a little glory too." Sparkle's sonics, furthermore, are purely world-weary: "Waitin' for Daddy" gallops like the rawest P.J. Harvey songs, while the dour ghost of Mark Eitzel hangs over "Ex-Americans."