Ted Leo and the Pharmacists

Since disbanding the punk-fueled Chisel in the late '90s, Ted Leo has emerged as a pub-rock hero, championing everyone from the Specials to Thin Lizzy while also creating his own revved-up version of the real thing. His engaging knack for storytelling lyrics and infectious passion for punk rock and politics make him a completely compelling performer and songwriter. He takes something you might not think you had any particular opinion on -- say, the Squeeze catalog, Stiff Records, Split Enz and yet more Thin Lizzy -- and throws it back in your face, reworded and individually stamped and rebirthed into a song like "Timorous Me." And suddenly you're faced with the reality that the guy making you pump your fists and shred some air guitar happens to be named Ted.

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After last year's Billy Bragg-esque EP Tell Balgeary, Balgury Is Dead and his alarming vocal-cord blowout, Leo is back with a full-length that steals more from his days with Chisel: The songs are all marked by muscle and bluster, with only a few moments of expanded palette, like the Celtic-style soul of "Counting Down the Hours." It's not a revelation; Leo is at a place where he's been before. But the strong points remain -- check the melody on the opening "Me & Mia," or the section on "Little Dawn," where he sings "Stretch out your weary hand to mine, it's alright" before he seems to put a finger to his lips and "shhh" like it's no big deal. Leo is delivering old-school rock melodrama. All he asks is that you believe him for a little bit. Even during Shake the Sheets's unsteady moments, you really should.

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