Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – Tell Balgeary, Balgury is Dead EP

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
Tell Balgeary, Balgury is Dead EP

It appears more and more that Ted Leo is a man that can do no wrong. With his burn-out-bright group, Chisel, he helped create and define the genre of mod-punk. Leo was doing the retro-English style thing back in the early 90s, before all those black-clad NYC hipsters even started listening to the Stones. His career fronting the Pharmacists, mostly a solo project, has been nothing less than stellar. His approach is unique and memorable, and he knows exactly how to craft a solid pop tune that compels one to shake ass. And unless someone masters Leo’s vocal quavering, melody shifts, and blurring guitar strumming, he is untouchable by peers and imitators. By the way, I’m not only a member of the Ted Leo fanclub, I’m also the president.
Tell Balgeary, Balgury is Dead is a collection of mostly solo works and covers. The title track appeared on Hearts of Oak and was one of that album’s standouts with its propelling rhythm and excellent organ accompaniment. It is the only track here that features a full band, and it is sufficient motivation tool and attention grabber to be featured first. “The High Party” comes next, a solo reworking of the song from Leo’s full-length. It is the most melodically complex, and Leo’s distinctive vocals handle the complexities like a seasoned pro, without a backing band.
The collection of covers here is telling of Leo’s influences. He handles the Pogues’ “Dirty Old Town,” stripping away much of the Macgowan drunken Irish lilt, by powering through almost without the pause of sentimental reflection that characterized so much of the Pogues work. In that way, the work is uniquely his. A more immediate influence is the Jam’s “Ghosts.” Leo’s cadence and musical approach is akin to those English mod revivalists more so than any group. “Six Months in a Leaky Boat” is a reworking of 80s New Zealand shining stars Split Enz. Yet with all those covers, an artist that Leo chooses not to cover has the largest presence on the disc. This EP, its starkness stripped of pretension, is a dead ringer for Billy Bragg’s Back to Basics. Like Bragg as well, Leo tackles the politics of the era with “Loyal to My Sorrowful Country.”
This EP is like Ted Leo coming into your living room, plugging into a small amp, and rocking away. It’s an intimate and private affair that thankfully dispenses with all the self-reflection and acoustic guitars of so many solo projects. It’s an essential addition to any fan of Leo’s work, for fledgling mod fans, and those with an affinity for the modern singer/songwriter. This EP proves that with or without a backing band, Leo is always on point.