New in­spi­ra­tion fu­els Ted Leo’s solo work

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - Broward - - MUSIC - By Greg Kot

Ted Leo had been mak­ing records for more than two decades when his ca­reer took a turn to­ward the un­known a few years ago. He was fall­ing out with his old record la­bel and was now in his 40s, a time when many rock­ers start to run on artis­tic fumes.

In­stead, Leo found new in­spi­ra­tion. He didn’t quite rein­vent him­self so much as dig out new modes of ex­pres­sion in his song­writ­ing, first through a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Aimee Mann in the Both in 2014, then on a sprawl­ing self-re­leased solo al­bum, “The Hanged Man,” which came out this month.

Leo de­vel­oped a bond with Mann when he opened a tour for her as a solo act a few years ago. Their mu­tual ad­mi­ra­tion turned into a col­lab­o­ra­tive al­bum, “The Both,” that pushed both artists into fresh ter­ri­tory. “Aimee helped me­un­der­stand what I could do in a song,” Leo says. “She made me aware that there could be op­tions, and it opened up some things for me, made me aware of strengths I didn’t re­ally know I had.”

“The Both” en­er­gized both artists and stands as a peak mo­ment in both their ca­reers, a rare in­stance of t wo song­writ­ers with strong i ndi­vid­ual solo voices cre­at­ing a seam­lessly blended whole that sounds like noth­ing either had pre­vi­ously re­leased. Leo brought some of that cre­ative j uice i nto “The Hanged Man,” the most am­bi­tious al­bum of a ca­reer that stretches back to the late ’80s. It in­cludes the en­er­getic punk and power pop on which Leo has built his ca­reer but also stretches into lusher, more elab­o­rately ar­ranged or­ches­tralpop songs and mood pieces.

The ar­range­ments em­ploy more elab­o­rate back- ing har­monies, in­cor­po­rate key­boards more ex­ten­sively, add sax­o­phone and strings, and dial down some of the tem­pos. The richer sound con­trasts with the more one- di­men­sional, high-en­ergy ap­proach that in­formed many of his pre­vi­ous al­bums when he was billed as Ted Leo and the Phar­ma­cists. This time he recorded most of the al­bum by him­self at his home stu­dio in Rhode Is­land, with help from a few mu­si­cians and back­ing vo­cal­ists.

The ap­proach lent it­self to an al­bum loaded with songs that dealt with heavy per­sonal sub­jects. In the past few years, Leo and his wife lost a child they were ex­pect­ing due to mis­car­riage, and in a re­cent in­ter­view with Stere­ogum, Leo re­vealed that he had been abused as a child by a piano teacher while grow­ing up in New Jersey. In songs such as the brood­ing yet beau­ti­ful “Let’s Stay on the Moon” and “Lons­dale Av­enue,” he sounds more vul­ner­a­ble than ever, with mu­sic to match. Greg Kot is a Tri­bune critic.

MINDY TUCKER PHOTO

Singer-song­writer Ted Leo col­lab­o­rated with Aimee Mann on the al­bum “The Both,” and it en­er­gized both artists.

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