"I was a pot-smoking, whiskey-drinking, fun-loving, down-home Appalachian boy," sings Zach Terry on "From Upton," the fourth track on The Whiskey Smugglers' debut, Clear Strong Dreams. There you have it: The Carrboro band's first LP is a jaunty romp through the woods and into a bar, where girl troubles, restlessness and the quest for a good time fuel the quick trip. At nine tracks and a shade under 34 minutes, these tight songs fire down like shots of rich booze.
The Whiskey Smugglers formed last summer, and this album is a bouncing, celebratory and somewhat simple one-year anniversary present. Electric guitar burns bright, spelling out big dreams on "Dry Town" as Terry yearns for a greater future. Accordion pumps underneath, grounding the rocker with humble roots. This balance between rock and folk, between driving backbeats and slashing fiddles, unites the album. More than any specific balance, though, Clear Strong Dreams focuses on having fun.
The Smugglers takes a needed breather midway through, when Katie Hayes intones, "The poor love better than the rich folks do," on the "Ballad of Larry and Jimmie Sue." The tune drifts and sways, but The Smugglers don't stay quiet for long. To wit, "The Ho Song" uses the tradition of tall tale exaggeration to paint the picture of an abusive 7'6" former prostitute with a beer gut. Terry is joined on the chorus, singing, "She's my woman/ she's my hero/ she's my lover/ she broke my stereo." Upbeat and funny, the song ends too soon. Ostensibly not wanting the hyperbole to die, drummer David Wilson takes a solo after the tune is over.
So many bands get silly and stupid. Clear Strong Dreams is best when the septet lets loose with laughs, though. The barely reigned-in sound approaches beautiful cacophony, fresh and exciting.
The Whiskey Smugglers release Clear Strong Dreams at Local 506 Saturday, Aug. 22, with Lafcadio and Gambling the Muse. The $7 show begins at 9:30 p.m.