Ted Leo makes less of a deal about it than most of his contemporaries, but once his solo career hit its stride, he was every bit as instrumental as bands like The Hold Steady or Titus Andronicus in bringing previously uncool sounds to the indie world. In his case, it was the mod rock style of The Jam, Celtic-tinged punk of The Pogues, bleeding-heart falsettos of Neil Finn and ’70s-style shuffles of Thin Lizzy, all with a big helping of E Street grandiosity. After shorting out lo-fi punks Chisel(“Theme for a Pharmacist”) and trying his hand at sampladelic dub instrumentation (“Congressional Dubcision”), he finally got his bold guitar style (“Timorous Me”) and power pop sensibility (“Under the Hedge”) together by 2001’s The Tyranny of Distance. And he unleashed full-band fury on 2002’s Hearts of Oak with the Pharmacists, who added fuzz-bass crunch to “The Ballad of the Sin Eater,” funk to “Hearts of Oak” and swing to “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?”, in which Leo also stretched his falsetto to the max.
A full-on power trio by 2004’s Shake the Sheets, they were well-oiled semi-punks on tracks like “Counting Down the Hours” and “The One Who Got Us Out,” and became both punkier and softer by 2007’s Living with the Living Finally, The Brutalist Bricks signaled some kind of exhaustion — not that you could tell from blazing tracks like “The Mighty Sparrow” or “Bottled in Cork” — and a long hiatus followed until Leo hooked up with long-acclaimed songwriter Aimee Mann for The Both, a more-than-honorable power pop record featuring his finest singing ever and gorgeous harmonies every which way on anthems like “No Sir” and “Pay for It.” — Dan Weiss