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Makin Waves Top NJ Indie Songs of the Year

By Bob Makin

Makin Waves Top NJ Indie Songs of the YearHere’s a look at the 10 best independent New Jersey songs to cross my desk in what surprisingly was a great year for record music from the Garden State. All are self-released unless indicated by an indie label. 

If you’re spending money on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday or Giving Tuesday, invest in these great Jersey artists: 


1. Foxanne, "Opportunity" -- Foxanne takes something as fanciful as a trip to Mars and makes the loneliness and sense of abandonment bone-achingly real. Like a great animated family movie, “Opportunity” blurs the lines between man and machine because your heart is breaking for a Mars Rover, the unlikely narrator of the emotional tale. Disney should come knockin’ on Foxanne’s door to expand this tune into a feature or at least a short. 

2. The Milwaukees, “The Calling” (Mint 400 Records) -- The closing piece de resistance of The Milwaukees’ first album in nine years is the plaintive, piano-driven title track. “The Calling” exquisitely summarizes the album’s hopefulness in the face of hardship, especially heartbreak, with a tale about how music (or any passion) can heal the hurt it often causes.

3. Stella Mrowicki, “Without Me” -- Sunny, piano-driven, banjo ‘n’ fiddle-flavored opening single to Stella’s impressive EP, “Pine Trees and Wildflowers.”


4. Stella Mrowicki, “High St.” -- Soul-stirring song that sounds like Emmylou Harris singing at New Orleans jazz funeral.

5. Bruce Tunkel, “I Can Do Better” -- Bruce at his one-man best, especially the haunting, tubular-sounding guitar work. But what makes this track the standout among 22 songs released on two records this year are powerful Springsteenesque lyrics.

6. Rick Barry, “No Smoking” -- Pretty piano-driven, string-spiced chronicle of the United States’ decline since the 9/11 terrotist attack that makes a fascinating comparison between the freedoms that smokers lost when driven out into the cold to the disregard for science of self-proclaimed patriots who refuse to a wear a mask during the pandemic.




7. Mike Montrey Band, “Spirit of Youth” -- Haunting, rousing, soulful single featuring a splendid pedal steel by Jack Stanton that glides alongside Mike & Jen Augustine’s stirring vocals.  

8. Mike Montrey Band, "New Mexico” -- Standout EP track that would make a Flying Burritos Brother fan cry in their beer. 


9: Originaire, "Off the Ship" -- Exquisite duet as powerful as it is lovely, especially CiBon’s otherworldly vocals and fantastic fiddler Valerie Vuolo’s beautiful bowing. 

10. Candy Cavity, "Fuck Boy" -- Toxic entanglement that finds an unsuspecting lass infatuated with an Asbury Park player, a fate Candy compares to “swimming with the sharks.” Lead guitarist Steve Markow plays fantastically with a searing, seething solo on this Nirvana-like menacing but melodic track.


Bob Makin is a reporter for USA TODAY NETWORK and the former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him via email and like Makin Waves on Facebook.

Makin Waves Top NJ Indie Songs of the Year

originally published: 11/26/2020

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