The title track from Blake Rainey and His Demons’ latest album, Helicopter Rose, is about rescue, and it’s a theme that carries throughout the new record, one populated with stories of forlorn barflies, tattered relationships, and other hard-luck realities of modern life.
Rainey has earned his share of acclaim over the past 10 years. His previous band, the Young Antiques, won him critical accolades for its rollicking mix of power pop and roots rock, including high marks from SPIN, No Depression, PopMatters, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and more. But it took the Antiques’ dissolution for Rainey to push his songwriting into deeper thematic waters. Citing inspiration from lyricists including Tom Waits, Elvis Costello and Paul Westerberg, Helicopter Rose is checkered with smart wordplay and sharp storytelling in the tradition of his legendary influences.
“I’ve always been drawn to people who write songs that are very unique,” Rainey says. “You want to try and spin a story that you haven’t heard before. Or maybe you’ve heard it before, but there are interesting new twists in the song that make it fresh.”
And this is exactly what Rainey pulls off with Helicopter Rose. While much of the record is rooted in sad-eyed country music fodder, Rainey displays an uncanny knack for turning otherwise painful stories into songs that are, by turns, thought-provoking and amusing. A native Georgian, he grew up with country music staples such as Johnny Cash, George Jones, and Waylon Jennings on the stereo. But with the Young Antique’s power-pop approach, there was little room to incorporate his love of country. After recording and touring with the band, off and on, for more than a decade, Rainey released his first record with the Demons, The Dangerous Summer, in 2007. The Ambulance Alley EP followed in 2009 and the band’s sophomore LP effort, Love Don’t Cross Me, followed in 2014.
The first two Demons records found Rainey refining his songwriting style to canvas the full scope of his tastes and influences. Helicopter Rose, though, represents a more deliberate push to find where punk rock meets country, where Merle Haggard crosses paths with The Replacements. It took his backing band of drummer Eric Young, guitarist Aaron Mason, and bassist Joe Foy—a seasoned veteran of New York City’s CBGB punk scene—to bring his eclectic vision to life. Rainey also enlisted the services of revered steel guitar player Steve Stone to give the songs some added country authenticity.