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Saturday, February 18, 2023

Sunday Morning Cigarettes: New Album from One Ton Trolley

One Ton Trolley:  Click Link To Listen Now!

 Detroit area roots rock band One Ton Trolley released their highly anticipated, full length LP Sunday Morning Cigarettes on all online, digital and streaming platforms on Friday, February 17th, 2023--two years to the day since they first entered the studio.    And Oh!  The songs on this project are definitely worth the wait!

Bill Arnold Hard At Work

The band defines their sound as "Roots Rock from the Rustbelt" and features hard-driving electric rock-and-roll songs that manage to capture the blue-collar grit and grind of the industrial Midwest, while still staying true to the  to the bluegrass and acoustic music roots of the songs'  origins.  According to songwriter and band leader Bill Arnold (ASCAP), "For me, songs always come from one guitar, one voice and time enough to allow them to meld into something interesting.  They have to resonate with me when I'm alone in my little studio, or at my cabin in front of the fire on a winter day. When they elicit emotion from the people I play them for, I bring them to my partners in the  Trolley and  we  mold them into our unique sound, each of us adding our signature styles to the final product." 

The songs on Sunday Morning Cigarettes give us a little peek at how Arnold sees the world around him--tales usually not based on a single person or observation, but rather a conglomerate of persons and events amalgamated into an intriguing story based on a lifetime of songwriting voyeurism and iterative re-imagination of how these characters arrived at a specific moment in time, or in a specific situation.   These rich character studies and enticing story lines allow the listener to instantly connect, and bring these stories to life.  When coupled with Bill's unique mastery of  both the lyrical and rhythmic guitar hook, these stories become the types of songs you sing in your head for days after you hear them performed.  

Shives and OTT in the Studio
Recorded at the fabled Tempermill Studios in Ferndale Michigan, Sunday Morning Cigarettes was co-produced  by Bill Arnold and legendary producer Jake Shives, who did the album mixing.   The final recording was mastered at Third Man Mastering in Detroit.  When coupled with the fact that all the performers on the album are based in the Detroit area, you begin to realize that a powerful, dynamic and enthusiastic music scene is alive and well in Southeast Michigan!  The attention to detail and effort put into this recording is evident in the rich, clean and vibrant sounds of this record, where every nuance of every line and note can be heard clearly and fully.  Do yourself a favor and buy a physical CD from the band at their next show, as the quality of the uncompressed .cda recordings are noticeably more dynamic than the compressed digital audio versions available online and through streaming services.  

With the band ramping up bookings in advance of the record release, fans have the opportunity to catch the band in a variety of local venues that showcase the flexibility and versatility of the band's sound.   A sold out special event at Wiltsies in Clarkston featured Bill playing his songs on acoustic guitar in an intimate, living room concert setting with his longtime friend and co-writer Adam Carpenter (a monster songwriter of his own who fronts not only a legendary Michigan bluegrass band, Chasin' Steel, but his own electrified, original music band, Adam Carpenter and the Upper Hand).   Bill and Guitarist Anthony Zack have been doing acoustic shows at Robinhills Farm (Chelsea) as the "1/2 Ton Trolley", often accompanied by Chris Brown on Acoustic Bass--a not-to-miss show in a cool venue.  A full electric-performance at a pre-release, sold out show at 20 Front Street wowed the fans and allowed them to purchase the first copies of the new album.   Look for shows near you in the coming weeks (and reach out the to the band if you know of cool venues they should be playing!)

Johnson, Zack, Brown and Arnold

Though the songs are born of acoustic roots,  Arnold has chosen a veteran core of electric musicians to help bring the songs to fruition.  Based around the dynamic rhythm section of noted blues drummer Jon Johnson and well-traveled bassist Chris Brown, every track on Sunday Morning Cigarettes features deep pockets and complex, driving rhythms that carry the songs forward.   Bill's rich baritone lead vocals and intricate electric rhythm guitar parts are excellently complemented by "trusty right hand man", lead guitarist and harmony vocalist Anthony Zack.  A student of rock music, Zack manages to give each song a unique, and perfectly matched guitar sound ranging from classic rock tones of the 70s, through punk and hard rock sounds of the 80s, and progressive rock/alternative licks from the 90s.  Likewise, his harmony parts are as unique as they are well through out and matched to the lyrical content of each song.  Less perfect two- and three-part harmony and more "brother harmony", Zack's vocal contribution often edges more towards "co lead vocalist" rather than "backup singer" and really serves to elevate the songs.

Ashley Pyle
Arnold chose to draw from the best in Detroit area talent to round out the record with several guest appearances.  Producer/Engineer Shives contributed some organ and melotron parts.  For Trailers and Tornadoes and several other songs, organist Pete Zajicek of Slowfoot contributed some killer Hammond B3/Leslie licks (IYKYK!).  Larry Labeck has contributed pedal steel guitar to countless projects and added just the perfect touch to Ghost Garden from the very first note!  Also on that track, listen for the female harmony vocals from local songstress Ashley Pyle--who was so inspired by this song, she has actually written a response song (from the woman's point of view).  I think it's called In the Garden.   Listen for her and that song around you--you won't be sorry.  But enough about the recording and on to my review of each song.  The opinions and interpretations of these songs are, of course, entirely mine and don't revflect the thoughts and opinions of the band.  Here's the link to listen along to these tracks while you read: Sunday Morning Cigarettes Streams     

Track 1: Sunday Morning Cigarettes

 Right out of the gate, the Trolley punches you right in the brain with this driving, hard rock anthem about the realities of mature love once the glamour of new romance has worn off.  Highlights include Zacks harmony vocals on the chorus and Arnold's unexpected rhymes in the choruses.  The guitar solo evokes those late 80s MTV videos while Bill's punchy, throaty rhythm guitar drives the song forward. 

Track 2: Words

Another high energy song, Words manages to combine crunchy, distorted rhythm lines, with clean, poppy melodies (think The GoGos fronting a Metalica show?).  The song speaks to the power of our words, the choices we make in using them,  and the consequences of what we say.  The slightly bluesy choruses lead to upbeat, mostly positive and plaintive choruses.  Again, Zack's choice of guitar solo, tasteful guietar fills, and complementary harmony vocals elevate this song to stratospheric heights. 

Track 3:  My Town

Written about his home town of Milford, Michigan, but equally applicable to any of our home towns, Bill has captured the magic of home towns and the nostalgia that brings us back and restores us.   The song begins with an A Capella vocal and solo finger-style guitar part that betrays the acoustic roots of the song.  As the song progresses to lyrics about attending weekend high school football games, drummer Johnson adds a clever snare drum part evocative of those chilly night games.   In front of the electric bass and guitar, Bill guests on his own recording and shows off his bluegrass roots with a killer dobro solo that adds an entirely new dimension to the song.   My favorite lyric?  "We can drown all our failures in bourbon and bitters, in our home town..."

Track 4:  Trailers & Tornadoes

Batting cleanup is this powerful song about passionate new relationships that Bill co-wrote over the telephone with his long-time friend and co-writer Adam Carpenter.  Coincidentally, both Bill and Adam released versions of the song this month!  Both are totally different, but somehow manage to both capture the power and chaos both tornadoes and new love.  Close your eyes and listen to Zack's electric guitar and Zajicek's Hammond part and you can see a dirty, dented Maytag washer swirling thought the dirt and debris of a rising cyclone of air and hear the anger and passion of weeknight arguments in young lovers' first rentals, trailers and apartments.  I can definitely hear this song being played on the radio and gaining a following.

Track 5: Living the Lonely

My favorite One Ton Trolley track, this straight forward rocker once again talks about the end of a bad relationship: "I know just what I'll do, sit here living the lonely without you".   Turn this up loud and listen to Brown's transitions on Bass that drive the song forward.  Arnold and Anthony's guitar parts, mean and dirty, are so well matched it's sometimes hard to tell who's playing.   Interesting enough, this song even features a baritone electric guitar part from Zack, who's first time ever holding one was during this recording!

Track 6: Once Upon November

A deeper, more melodic track, again featuring Zajicek on Hammond B3, One Upon November reflects on seasons passed and missed opportunities while celebrating the here and now and planning a better future.  It's a "sit on the front porch and have a beer with your buddies" kind of vibe perfectly carried through the song with the seamless mixing of instruments and vocals to create a powerful, earworm of a song that builds to an unexpected and powerful ending. 

Track 7: If I Could Only Fly

Probably the best example of what I mean by a rhythmic and melodic hood, this song begins with Bill on electric guitar with a simple little piece of a melody   that builds and repeats to the song as it builds.  The rhythm section of Brown and Johnson truly outdo themselves with the miles deep pocket and groove on this song--it will have you tapping your feet and swaying along through the entire song.  Zack's soaring guitar work helps to take you thoughts higher as you float along with the band and explore the freedom and joy that music brings us. 

Track 8: Ghost Gardens

One of the band's most requested songs, and a truly great origin story.  Ghost Gardens was a term used by Detroit Investigative Legend Charlie LeDuff describing to Anthony Bourdain the yearly emergence of perennial flower among the weeds on the abandoned lots in Detroit.   "I tried to write a song about his for years",  says Arnold, "until one day I realized it wasn't a love song, it was a loss song."  There is some much to enjoy about this song: Bill's acoustic guitar line is stellar, Larry Labeck's pedal steel brings so much emotion to this simple song, and Ashley Pyle's ethereal female harmonies add that perfect little counterpoint at the end of the song.    It is a beautiful song.

 Track 9: Goodbye to Summertime

This song is about the changing of seasons.  Or maybe about getting older.   Or maybe about sitting around a fireplace in a northern Michigan cabin playing music late into the night with your friends.  OK, that last one is the memory if evokes in ME.  This song begins again with Bill on acoustic guitar and dobro...and somehow when the band comes in, it is able to maintain that simple story and clean melody as the energy builds and flows.    This song is eminently memorable and will stick with you for days.    I can definitely hear this being played around late summer camp fires at music festivals.  

Track 10: Roots

Probably the most complex arrangement on the entire record, I was pleasantly surprised by this song.    I first heard this song performed as a solo acoustic number by Bill at a 20 Front Street songwriter circle, where he floored the crowd with not only his powerful lyrics and voice, but a complex, flatpicked rhythm line on guitar.  Somehow, Bill was able to pick apart that line and distribute it to all his band member.  Brown's funky, groovy bass line gives the song just the right amount of "upbeat" to counterbalance the dark, bluesy theme of the song.   Johnson's light touch on drums keeps the song from getting too heavy.  Zack's guitar solos carry that acoustic guitar part to strange new places, but manage to keep the feel and energy alive.   And Bill's rock solid rhythm fills out the sound--a pure wall of musical bliss. 

Track 11: Out in the Cold

Another song that on the surface seems to be about bad relationships and breakups, but upon deeper reflection is about the struggles we all face as we mature and our relationships evolve and change--and how much work it is to make those changes positive. The more I listen to this song, the more the melody haunts me.  And those harmonies in the chorus....

Track 12: Happy Ever Afters

A fitting send off to the album, this high energy, high-speed rocker will have you out of your seat and dancing like a teenager at your first rock show!  The lyrics focus on the positives we all have inside and how most of life's problems can be solved by just talking thing out.  "Strip away all your camouflage and just talk to me"--sage advice indeed.  Probably the best example of the tight groove this band falls into so easily, every band member, every instrument, every note on this song is pure perfection.   This is probably the first One Ton Trolley song you will fall in love with.  It won't be the last!

Like what you read?  There are a lot of ways you can connect with SeMiBluegrass and One Ton Trolley.  First and foremost, get out there and SEE SOME LIVE, LOCAL MUSIC!!    Buy tickets to upcoming shows!  Buy extra tickets and give them to your friends!  Buy the CD and some Merch at a show.  Follow the Band  on social media and join their exclusive fan group The Trolley Riders.  Most importantly, help spread the word by liking and sharing posts from One Ton Trolley and all of your other local, independent musicians.  Encourage your friends to follow, like and share too.   It truly is about "The People, The Places and The Music" and the more people engage, the more the music will grown.  See you out there!

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