A Latin lounge-lizard essence has always slithered beneath ramshackle roots-rock for Chapel Hill's New Town Drunks. But on their third round, Kiss, it comes to the forefront. The style's always been a good fit for brassy vocalist Diane Koistinen, so her torch drama goes full-on Nancy Sinatra here. The nine-song set is moodier and more heavily orchestrated than anything the Drunks have ever attempted, as though they've shifted from the dive bar to the wine bar. Always lithe arrangers, they tread a little heavier with the added sophistication of bossa nova, '60s noir pop and cabaret swing.
The theatricality certainly takes some adjustment, especially early into Kiss: New Town Drunks put the flamenco-flavored title track just after the space-age-bachelor-pad bounce of the instrumental "Pink Elephants." It's like going straight from Venice Beach to the Copacabana. Can I at least change first?
But things soon even out, starting with album highlight and third track "Little Eyes." The organ-fueled, garage-rock ode to deception features a terrific surf-inflected guitar intro by Robert Cofresi and an interesting blend of spy-movie cool and '60s rock drive. It's a sultry number. The accordion-driven whirl of "Le Guignon" moves through Weimar-tinged air, while the soul-flavored rock of character sketch "The Keychain Locket" fits its sticky-fingered protagonist well.
Once you're in the door, the slinky ease of Kiss keeps up its own momentum. It remains a grower, in large part because the style's uncommon if familiar, requiring a little acclimation. Still, it's a wonderful change of pace from the customary roots-rock fare New Town Drunks first suggested, a move that revitalizes the first word of their name.
Label: HMM Media
Correction: Diane Koistinen's last name was misspelled.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Hot and soft."