Here’s an alphabetical look at the 12 independent New Jersey artists who I thought made the most waves in 2021. Here’s to makin waves with all of them and you in what hopefully will be a much better year than the past couple!
Brielle Brown – This Jersey Shore songstress not only released a critically acclaimed, award-winning EP, “The Well,” but she also produced and directed one of the record’s many videos. Her clip for “She’s Come to Sing” won Best Music Video at the Big Apple Film Festival, was nominated at the Paris Film Festival, and was a finalist in the Black Panther International Short Film Festival. Even more impressive are the strong folk-rooted songs of “The Well,” especially the first single, “Concrete Stars,” which recalls Emmylou Harris and Sarah McLachlan. Click here for more about Brielle Brown.
Tara Dente – Jersey’s not the only place that loves this talented Long Branch-bred Americana singer-songwriter. FloydFest, an annual music and arts festival in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, fell in love with her too this year, as did several cities she toured in support of her latest album, “Truth in the Mud.” Tara also was featured in Relix magazine and on one of their monthly compilations of the best independent acts in the country. And she will continue to make waves in 2022 with two Nashville dates in January. Click here for more about Tara Dente.
Dogs in a Pile – 2021 Makin Waves Award Best Live Band and Best Guitarist winner, this Jersey Shore jam band has taken a big bite out of the Northeast concert scene in support of this year’s debut LP, “Not Your Average Beagle.” Now booked by Arrival Artists, Dogs in a Pile will keep on truckin’ on a winter tour that will take them to Connecticut; Vermont; Rhode Island; North Carolina; Virginia; Upstate New York; Nashville; Athens, Ga.; Charleston, S.C.; Massachusetts; Washington, D.C., and will include a spot opening for Pink Talking Fish on Jan. 29 at The Capitol in Port Chester, N.Y. They’ll also play FloydFest on July 27. Click here for more about Dogs in a Pile.
The Foes of Fern — Last year, 2020 Makin Waves Best Guitarist Matt “Fern” Fernicola and Telegraph Hill Records treated us to several extremely well-made videos leading up to the release of the Foes’ “Carpe Diem” LP. An excellent cycle of clips began this year for a sophomore album expected 2/22/22. Along the way, the Foes toured regionally. Upcoming dates include the Feb. 5 closing set of Telegraph Hill’s annual What a Wonderful Year celebration, which also will take place Feb. 4 at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park. Click here for more about The Foes of Fern.
The Happy Fits — With nearly 1 million monthly listeners on Spotify and more than 20,000 YouTube subscribers, this tongue-in-cheek but super-talented Clinton-based indie-pop trio certainly have been makin waves. The charming cello-driven combo followed last year’s sophomore LP, “What Could Be Better,” with a tasty new vinyl single, “Another Try b/w Cold Turkey,” which should lead to another sea of fun videos for the next album. In the meantime, they’ll continue February through May on the What Could Be Better Tour supported by Sarah & the Sundays and Aviv with stops in more than a dozen states, plus Toronto and Montreal. Click here for more about The Happy Fits.
Tom Kanach — 2020 Makin Waves Male Artist of the Year, Song of the Year (“Change”), and Best EP (also “Change”) — and former front man of mid-‘90s Band of the Year Well of Souls — Tom made waves on his bassist Joe Rowley’s Pop Clique label with videos for all of the EP’s five songs, plus a new one for the powerful single, “If,” from the next EP or LP. Tom’s amazing band also includes guitarists Pete Wood (Dramarama) and Johnny Rao (David Johansen, Sylvain Sylvain) and drummer Steve Buzbee, who played with members of The Wonder Stuff. They have a hot Light of Day show on Jan. 7 at Asbury Park Yacht Club. And in May, they will play the Wonder Bar also in Asbury Park. Click here for more about Tom Kanach.
Little Hag — Makin Waves 2018 Female Artist of the Year Avery Mandeville continues to thrive on Bar/None Records as Little Hag, both her stage and band names. The Jersey Shore indie songstress recently released her latest LP, “Leash,” which follows a single and EP also on the legendary internationally renowned Hoboken-based indie that has been a home to Rage To Live, The Feelies, They Might Be Giants, Yo La Tengo, The Front Bottoms and much more. On the video tip, Avery was busy in front of and behind the camera. She filmed, directed and edited Little Hag clips for “Tetris” and “Piss” and also appeared as a love interest in Ser Xerri’s Makin Waves Video of the Year “Close 2 U.” As for the road, a winter tour is expected to be announced soon. Click here for about Little Hag.
Nefesh Mountain -- The 2021 Makin Waves Band of the Year in honor of a torrent of accolades and accomplishments in the face of adversity, this Montclair-based Jewish bluegrass ensemble made their debut at the Grand Ole Opry, were featured in Rolling Stone, jammed with esteemed violinist Mark O’Connor and Phish’s Mike Gordon, recorded with bluegrass greats Jerry Douglass and Sam Bush, topped the bluegrass charts, and toured the nation in support of two acclaimed albums: their third studio effort, the award-winning “Songs for the Sparrows,” and a live Hanukkah album, “Live from Levon Helm Studios: A Holiday Hanukkah Holiday Concert.” They’ll kick the new year off right with a month of dates in California, North Carolina, Georgia, and Feb. 5 at Emelin Theatre in Mamaroneck, NY. Click here for more about Nefesh Mountain.
Reality Suite – 2021 Makin Waves Award winners for Best Vocalist and Best Drummer, this female-fronted North Jersey hard rock outfit promote themselves better than anybody and have built an adoring fan base also with an hot live show, great recordings, and fun videos. While a once flurry of live shows understandably have been derailed for public safety reasons, no band works harder to stay connected to their fans in as entertaining a way. Expect lots more from this hard-working band in 2022. Click here for more about Reality Suite.
Silent Knight —The Band Called Fuse front man was featured in the Hulu documentary series “Wu-Tang: An American Saga,” as well as on ABC-TV’s “World News Now.” Silent Knight continues to make waves as artist-in-residence of the News Beat social justice podcast while also remaining active in Innocence Project, which exonerates the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reforms the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. In addition to Fuse, Knight’s partner in crime is DRKBXT, aka DJ-producer Derrick Braxton. With John Pellum of Jersey Arts Productions, they created a rad animated video for a tune called “Midsummer Knightmare” inspired by uprisings against police killings against unarmed black people. Click here for more about Silent Knight.
Click here to see Silent Knight's “Midsummer Knightmare” on InstaGram.
Taylor Tote – The 2021 Makin Waves Female Artist of the Year released a new single just about every six weeks on average in 2021. More studio splendor is expected soon. In the meantime, Taylor will play Light of Day’s Songwriters by the Sea soiree on Jan. 16 at The Watermark in Asbury Park. Sharing the big bill will be her former guitarist Nick Ryan, as well as Dave Vargo, Jake Thistle, Mary McCrink, Will Daley, Miss Emily, Bobby Mahoney, Mike Montali, and Arlan Feiles. Then she’ll open for Almost Queen on Feb. 5 at The Strand Theater in Lakewood. Click here for more about Taylor Tote.
Dave Vargo — The Makin Waves Songwriter of the Year released two impressive and well-received singles, “Fault Lines” and “Half Bad,” teasing to a third album expected in early 2022. Dave will continue to make waves hosting his weekly #2forTuesday Facebook livestream, which will feature Bobby Mahoney on Jan. 4 and Patrick Bamburak on Jan. 11. For the 22nd annual Light of Day festival in Asbury Park, Dave will play two shows on Jan. 16 at 12:15 pm at Songwriters at the Sea at the Watermark and 3:15 pm at a Saint show organized by Musicians on a Mission for which Dave is a board member. On Feb. 20 at Danny Clinch Transparent Gallery also in Asbury, Dave will play a MOAM benefit with Sharon Lasher and others for Monmouth University’s Rick Makin Memorial Scholarship in honor of my dearly departed father. Dave also will continue to help organize the annual Asbury Park Porchfest in the fall. Click here for more about Dave Vargo.