Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Living with the Living

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Living with the Living

After more than fifteen years of dedicated musicianship, Ted Leo is still searching for his voice. His roots are in D.C. hardcore, but his music frequently draws on folk and British mod-rock. He’s political, but he has neither the proletarian singability of Phil Ochs or Billy Bragg nor the impressionistic power of the Minutemen or Fugazi. Most importantly, while Leo has a talent for guitar, a gift for incidental hooks, and a downright beautiful voice, he solos only passably and he rarely pens a memorable chorus.

Living with the Living reflects these conflicts. Leo breezes through marginally catchy maximum-folk-n-B numbers like “Army Bound,” “Colleen,” and “The World Stops Turning” with an idealism that borders on naiv├ęte, as if he could add a couple of hooks to the right politics to make a good song. As with much of Leo’s work, the biggest weakness of these songs is that they’re simply not very challenging, for Leo or his audience.

Fortunately, the easy pop tracks are cut with songs that are starting to show a bit of edge. On opener “The Sons of Cain,” Leo’s honeydew voice cracks into a bracing shriek, a welcome sound that’s all too rare for someone who came of age in D.C. His political material is starting to get more canny as well: “C.I.A.” closes the album with a indictment, “only you know what you’ve done,” that, repeated, begins to implicate the listener along with the spooks. The ambiguity doubles its punch. Living with the Living‘s best songs, “La Costa Brava” and “The Lost Brigade,” lay understated, personal refrains over wonderfully patient emo-indie builds. Perhaps it’s less an “edge” than the twinge of real emotion; when Leo reflects in “The Lost Brigade” that “Every little memory is a song,” we get the impression that he’s finally collecting the right memories to match his talent.

(Touch and Go/Quarterstick Records -- P.O. Box 22520, Chicago, IL. 60625; http://www.tgrec.com/; Ted Leo and the Pharmacists -- http://www.tedleo.com/)
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Thursday, May 3rd, 2007. Filed under Reviews.

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