Readers of this blog may be well familiar with my friend, fishing buddy and Detroit singer/songwriter extraordinaire Bill Arnold and his band One Ton Trolley. Bill was actually the first person who convinced me to take up the guitar and that I could sing passable bluegrass harmony. As we set off on that musical journey together, we soon crossed path with Adam Carpenter and his bluegrass band Chasin' Steel (and new folk/blues rock/country project Adam Carpenter & The Upper Hand). As these two have set off on their individual journeys and me and my editorial adventures, they have kept close and even written several songs together. To support the release of their upcoming albums, Adam has made the journey to Southeast Michigan to play an acoustic duo show with Bill at Wiltsie's in Clarkston and share some of those songs. The audience reaction was so good, the show sold out almost immediately, and Brandon Sill of Wiltsie's graciously added a second Friday night show, that as of show time, was within two or three tickets of a second sell out!
7:30 PM - Doors Open
Doors open and the fans start pouring in. Band wives, fans of the band and assorted fishbums start piling in. Jeff "Pieboy" McGowan makes and appearance. You'd think with a nickname like that there'd be a ribald and inappropriate story, especially when it starts "you see...I was a boy scout"...but, alas, it's more confectionary than controversial...and he makes a MEAN blueberry pie (I think it's the cardamom)! Ron Karvonen (RON'S PARTY!!) showed up to support both the Detroit and UP contingent. If it's not sold out yet, it's damn close! Hang on...gonna be one hell of ride.
Bob Andres kicks of the show announcing the show. He lead's with Adam's Carpenter's release of "Trailers and Tornados" yesterday, a song co-written by Bill and Adam and ALSO recorded on Bill's Upcoming full-length album, "Sunday Morning Cigarettes". In his first visit to Detroit since 2019, Adam graciously allowed Bill to share a "hometown song in his new hometown". Actually written about Milford, where Bill grew up and learned to play music, "My Home Town" tells the story about how things change, but still stay the same. Adam's accompaniment on mandolin was a subtle, beautiful addition to this song. "We can drown all our failures in bourbon and bitters, in our home town"...
The show continues with a One Ton Trolley song "Don't Tell Me" from the band's 2021 EP "No Simple Highways". This song, about the words we use and the consequences of using them always speaks to me. Bill and I have been friends a long time and have almost daily discussions about life, music and the way things should be. We sometimes (often?) come down on opposite sides of issues, but always find a way to accept the other's point of view and find at least something we can agree on". Adam unleashes some killer mandolin fills on this song. They really add something to the song, especially with the stripped down arrangement and lack of three part harmony from the recorded version.
A quick instrument switch while Bill shares the story of how he and Adam met at his trout camp on the Manistee river, and Adam launches into another song he and Bill co-wrote, "About to shine". With a funky rhythm part on Adam's guitar and some wicked dobro licks from Bill the song builds energy and had the whole crowd bobbing along and tapping their feet. "I'm standing tall, above it all, and I'm about to shine".
Due to the nature of the room, the boys could play this unplugged, but I must mention that sound guy /Andres Bowmaster from Passion Missions LLC had things dialed in and you could hear every nuance of eery note, no matter where you were in the room. Adam continues with an ode to the copper country and the Keweenaw peninsula, "Copper Queen". Adam is finally getting really warmed up and his powerful, rich voice fills every nook and cranny at Wiltsie's punctuated by Bill's cutting dobro fills GREAT PERFORMANCE and everything acoustic songs are supposed to be. Not gonna lie, had my arm hairs standing on end.
Bill switches to guitar and announces the February l7th album release of "Sunday Morning Cigarettes" and the song he co-wrote with Adam, "Roots". A dark, swampy song; Bill's cutting guitar hook pairs perfectly with the bluesy mandolin vamp and fill from Adam. Something special about Wiltsie's is the ability of musicians to control their dynamics, from bare whispers to room filling crescendo's without loosing the clarity and power of the melody. This song REALLY benefited from the stripped down, dynamic treatment. One of the best times I've heard it performed.
Bill follows Adam's UP song with the only one he's written. An ode to the sailors on the Great Lakes Freighters "Ghost's of the Deep". I wasn't sure Adam could compete with One Ton Trolley's lead guitar player Anthony Zack's eerie, moody guitar part, but he came through in spades with a a subtle mandolin part the alternated between clean, major key counter melodies, and jarring discordant punctuations. A really cool treatment for this song. Totally changes it's character, but keeps the poignancy.
"Trailers and Tornados" is a fan favorite song famously co-written by Adam and Bill over the telephone. Adam released the song yesterday as a single (and it will appear on his late-spring 2023 album) and Bill recorded his OWN version on "Sunday Morning Cigarettes". Adam chose to go with a multi-instrumental, wall of sound, chaotic, stormy, blues/rock/country version with the Upper Hand. Bill wend to a stripped down, gritty Detroit rock version. I can't wait for both to be available live so you can listen to both and pick your favorite (or love them both for their differences). I love Adam's voice on this acoustic version, which pairs perfectly with Bill's gravely, rough harmony--it really adds to the story of a stormy love affair.
Short set break. Both bands have some pretty impressive merchandise: UI already own one of Adam's super-soft ACUH tee shirts, but noticed he had some REALLY nice Hoodies. Bill has some great tees of his own, as well as a ton of cool jewelry made from used band guitar strings and One Ton Trolley guitar pics. Scored an INCREDIBLE cup of coffee from Brandon right before the band came back on.
The Bearded Boys are Back and opening with a couple of Adam's songs, "Waiting for the Thaw" is a killer song about hard breakups and even harder U.P. winters. Adam's growly drop-D guitar part pair so good with Bills' dobro licks to set the perfect feel of long, dark times with only the hope for a glimpse of brightness in the future, Singing "running low on Beam, and beer, and Road Dog's food", Adam's plaintive verses build up to powerful, lonesome chorus "She left me in late April, and here I am, still waiting for the thaw". Really a killer song.
Bill talked about how his and Adam's real talent as vocalists is that they are smart enough to have great harmony vocalists in their bands. They also shared some unrequested beard grooming tips. But I do love their voices together.
Big shout out to Detroit area pedal steel legend Larry Labek, who plays on both of their albums.
Adam's next song, "Everything Will Be Alright" holds a dear place in my heart. On it's surface, it's a song about how coming home to someone who loves you makes all the trials of a tough life worth while. But almost four years ago, I was in a really dark place, in the U of M Hospital emergency room with my teenage daughter who had just been diagnosed with type one diabetes. Adam sent me an early, acoustic, iphone recording of this song..."You're my hardest goodbye, and my farvoritest hello, and everything's gonna be alright". I listened to it over and over in the hospital bathroom balling my eyes out until a nurse came in to see if I was alright...and somehow...I was. I still cry uncontrollably every time I hear it. Love you Adam, and thank you for this song.
Bill is back on guitar. Adam teases this song as one of Bill's "Top five Songs I didn't write with you". "Words" features a complex melody line on the guitar that Adam somehow embellished and smoothed out with a smooth solo mandolin part. It's this talent for simple melodies, with complex rhythmic lines that really set Bill's songs apart in an acoustic setting. Add in the simplicity and poetic impact of his lyrics and the result is always beautiful, well-crafted and memorable songs. Can't wait for "Sunday Morning Cigarettes" to be released into the wild and more people experience what this is all about. Speaking of SMC, Bill has worked with me to craft a cool idea. On Thursday, February 23, at HomeGrown Brewery in Oxford, I will will be Emceeing a special "storytellers" version of the album, where the band plays acoustic version of the album, interspersed with band interviews, the stories behind the recording, the inspiration and meaning of the songs. Should be a great way for fans new and old to connect with the band and their songs.
Speaking of those stories, Bill shared the story of Anthony Bourdain's visit to Detroit, where he drove through the ruins of the Brush Park neighborhoods with TV News Anchor Charlie LaDuff and pointed out the perennial flowers poking up the the ruins of neighborhood houses. "I call those Ghost Gardens" said LaDuff...and Bill had an "Ah Ha" moment and his most requested song, "Ghost Garden" was born. "I thought it was a Love song, until I realized it was a Loss song" said Bill. Local musician Ashley Pyle (who sang harmony vocals on the album) told me she was so inspired by this song, that she has written a response to this song, this time from the dead wife's point of view. I can't wait to hear it. Adam was singing along quietly. He might not have thought anyone could hear him...but I could, and that ethereal, haunting harmony fit the song perfectly.
Adam continues the show with a Chasin' Steel Classic "Troutbum". A great choice. In true bluegrass fashion, Adam only forgot a couple lyrics, which just leant to the entertainment factor...like watching Bill try not to laugh like a SNL actor trying to to laugh at their cast mates ridiculous jokes. Fun fact, if you listen to the original recording, captured live on our friend Phil Cook's back deck on the bank of the Au Sable river in Grayling, Michigan you can definitely hear the wind in the pines, the birds chirping and the gurgling of the flowing stream. Give this song a listen and maybe, just maybe, you an understand the draw and alure of Michigan trout streams where lifelong friendships are born and nurtured.
Another Adam Carpenter original as he takes us "down some back road B.F.E." with his ode to his adopted home "U.P. Life". The PERFECT campfire song, this is sure to be a summertime festival classic. "Damn I love this U.P. life!". Somehow, Adam was able to avoid the Pasty shops, jet boat tours, smoked fish and and fudge counters at the gas station and hunting camps most often associated with the U.P. and pointed out that it is the simple things, the beautiful thing, and the everyday things that truly make the U.P. a magical place. Those of us that have spent significant time there already know this. "U.P. Life" is available on all streaming platforms. Give it a listen.
Bill chooses to close the show strong with the title track from his upcoming project. "Sunday Morning Cigarettes". It's important to mention that Bill insists this song is NOT about his wife Beth (she doesn't even smoke". Rather, it's the product of his keen observation of people and relationships and his voyeuristic ability to then project forward and backwards to imaging how these people got here in the first place. A real rocker, even in acoustic format, the "semi-explicit" cat verse might be the second best line in the song. Also impressive that Bill was able to rhyme the five-syllable word "sanctimonious". Give this song a listen. It's GREAT!