It seems Chapel Hill's New Town Drunks have matured or, at the very least, sobered up. Back from a newborn-filled hiatus, the Drunks offer The Ballad of Stayed and Gone, their debut full-length, a relatively sedate, thoughtful follow-up to 2005's typically rambunctious ....Trust Us With Your Car EP.
Pedal steel, the flamenco-style picking of guitarist Roberto Cofresi and various interludes, like a carny's call and the laugh of Baby Camilla on a song that takes her name, contribute to an overarching reflective tone. The Drunks do hark back to their old glories on the anxious, organ-driven rave-up, "Itch," though even it peters to a stop with an atmospheric 90-second outro. The twangy "Double Sunglasses Sunday" sways lazily like a successor to the Eagles' "Tequila Sunrise," and the album-closing "Sofia's Lullaby" drifts like an unattended rowboat in a soft acoustic chop, led by singer Diane Koistinen's resonant, hip-swinging alto. On one of the album's highlights, "Sometimes Marianna," pedal steel keys a slow Texas-country swing, while Koistinen moans, "You think what you think today [you're] gonna think tomorrow."
Indeed, on the bossa nova-flavored "Stayed and Gone," she answers her own indictment: "We don't really know anything." Like an edifying hangover, that sentiment—of no sound or situation being too permanent or too sacred—infuses the album. All told, it plays like an epihany that all the liquor in the bar can't slow time's advance and incumbent changes. While perhaps a disappointment for those seeking a reprise of the Drunks' boisterous carefree ways, it's a grower made for overcast Sundays.
New Town Drunks play acoustic Saturday, Sept. 12, at 8 p.m. outside Koistinen's hair salon, The Beehive on Weaver St. in Carrboro, before heading to the Local 506 for a CD release show with John Howie & The Sweethearts and Taz Halloween at 10 p.m. Tickets are $7.