I have always been fascinated by what musicians listen to when they aren’t creating their own music. What music inspires them, what albums do they return to again and again—their “desert island” discs. With this in mind I decided to ask some of my favorite New Jersey musicians to name their top 10 favorite albums of all time. Not the albums that they think are “important,” or that have influenced many other artists or ones of technical merit. I wanted to know their very favorite albums that they love just because the records mean the most to them.
I first met Jackson native guitarist/songwriter Joe Makoviecki in the summer of 2015 in Seaside Heights when his band Thomas Wesley Stern played the Ocean Terrace local artist stage on the Gentlemen of the Road tour. They had just played a great set and I saw Joe afterward and went up to introduce myself. Turns out he knew me from the site and he couldn’t have been nicer as we talked about music.
The honesty and warmth he genuinely exudes has carried over to his new acoustic folk band Jackson Pines. Along with former TWS upright bassist James Black the duo have been creating some incredibly gorgeous music. Just take a listen to their 2017 album Purgatory Road and EP Lost & Found. The songs are intimate and personal buoyed by Makoviecki’s sincere vocal delivery.
You can get up close with Joe on May 16th at the Watermark in Asbury Park when he will appear at Let’s Get Folked Up. The show will feature singers, stories and songs that is sure to be an amazing evening. With Chris Brown, Jo Smith, Renee Maskin of Lowlight, and Matty Carlock. You can catch the duo on Saturday afternoon May 12th at the Asbury Bazaar at Conventional Hall in Asbury Park.
We have a twist this time out! When I asked Joe if he wanted to give this a try he was excited and thought of an idea. He would come up with 5 records and James would come up with 5. Interesting plan I thought but James is known as the “quiet one” so how to proceed? Joe explained “James has not made a statement, but I think he would say something like. “These albums are damn good, give em a try.”” Then we hit on it! What if Joe made a statement about the albums James picked? Let’s do it!
Joe’s picks first!
Ryan Adams and the Cardinals – Cold Roses
Something about this record just sounds good. Simple as that. It’s hard to explain. Sure, it may lean heavily on the Dead, a band I don’t really even listen to that much. I like em, but this is something entirely different. It changed the way I wrote songs and wanted my band to sound when I was 15. That year he released 3 albums in one year, and it blew my mind. Then I saw them play these songs at Starland in Sayreville and it sounded even looser and raw and awesome. Moments all over the record became a serious part of my philosophy of life when I was 16 and 17. “Easy Plateau” and “Meadowlake Street” just show the range of sounds that can fit with a band as good as the Cardinals backing him up. “If I Am A Stranger” and “Sweet Illusions” rank among his best on over ten albums counting his first band Whiskeytown. This album seems less self conscious than a lot of his others and it’s a good thing, the fact of it being a double album shows he was just in a whirl of productivity, even though it costed him his recording contract. Perhaps he wanted it to end so he fulfilled the contract in one year. Who knows? Either way, that record and the ones immediately surrounding it are a very interesting chapter in the career of an often misunderstood songwriter.
Favorite track: “How Do You Keep Love Alive?”
Joni Mitchell – Blue
Melodically, this is a work of supreme intelligence and natural ability. She does things that seem inhuman. Few can sing like that. There’s just an attitude and secret humor in there that is so enviable of a writer who not only does that well, but plays multiple instruments masterfully. She brings virtuoso to a new level in American rock n roll and folk music. She should have a statue of her in Washington as an example of what an American musical artist is. Uncompromising, so honest or mischievous or an enigma, depending on the song. Blue distills her early work into the most crystallized version of what came before. After that she tried many different sounds and found a way to make them work and sound wonderful. But nothing states her career’s effect and importance as succinctly as this collection of what is certainly among the most important songs of the 70s.
Favorite track: “River”
They Might Be Giants – Flood
TMBG occupies a rare, special hole in my heart. My dad was a radio kid and had a deep love for local, college, weirdo radio in NJ and he discovered TMBG on WFMU before I was born. The year I was born Flood came out and had some sick horn lines within. It ended up being one of the three cassettes played in my room as I went to sleep every night. There are strange vignettes “Minimum Wage” and the song named after the band “They Might be Giants”, but there are also legit all-time indie gems like “We Want A Rock” and “Dead”. It’s a weirdo mix of postpunk, folk, and college rock and the accordions and surf guitars still influence things I write.
Favorite track: “We Want A Rock”
Phil Collins – No Jacket Required
For some reason, Phil Collins was my first musical love. My dad was a music teacher and a horn player, so he loved any new music that made good use of a badass horn section. At the time Phil was touring with Earth Wind and Fire’s section, so my dad taped a live concert onto VHS from PBS. It fell into my view as a 3 year old and I was obsessed. I sang and danced to it almost everyday from the time I was 3 till I was 5. It taught me how to sing, like Phil that is. It was called “No Ticket Required” and was the component tour to the album, filmed live in Dallas. I sang and danced to it almost everyday. Of course there are the derided hits like “Sussudio” and “One More Night”, but the uncoolness is the best thing about it. It dares to be uncool by its very nature in a time of gross excess and extreme posturing. It’s plastic and it’s sarcastic in a very weird way. I can say it is the sole reason I’m a musician and songwriter. Just don’t call me Patrick Bateman.
Favorite track: “I Don’t Wanna Know”
Bright Eyes – Fevers And Mirrors
This may be the most important record I’ve ever heard. If Phil Collins made me wanna be a musician and songwriter at 3 and 4, Fevers and Mirrors suggested to me the kind of lyrics and emotion I could channel at 13. It’s such an autumn record for me. Every year I look forward to the first crisp day, the first sweater evening so I can make a fire with a friend and put on Fevers. Everything feels refracted. The future, the past. It all comes together when that one plays through. The collaborative nature of Saddle Creek then, the bands. The records, the tours. This inspired me to want to risk it all to have a few adventures with friends on the American highway. And then we did. It’s still so exciting.
Favorite track: Something Vague
James’ picks, with Joe’s thoughts, are below.
Tom Waites – Closing Time
The only reason this isn’t on my list is because James got to it first. As a songwriter, I’ll bow to the cliche that Waits is, of course, one of my all-time heroes. And although I love the many sounds of his expansive catalogue, there is something about this album that is so pure. Perhaps it’s the delicate nature of most of the album. I wonder how much of that comes from it being his first release on a label. Cautious? Waits? While most first albums come in with a bang and work super hard to get your attention, “Closing Time” feels like the end. While the album’s smooth, tiny Village club vibe sounds very different from what was screaming from the radio in 1973 (Dark Side of The Moon and Houses of the Holy were released this same year), don’t count this album out, the opening track “Old ’55” was a hit for the Eagles. Straight from God’s mouth to Tom’s ear, and then the Eagles’ pocket. I think “I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You” is the greatest bar song ever written, Billy Joel be damned. It is T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock for the late 20th century, hesitation incarnate. In a time when rock was the top of the commercial music mountain, Waits’ national debut drops into existence with subdued, cool patience that isn’t afraid to toe the line of the uncool. “Little Trip To Heaven On The Wings Of Your Love” borders on schlock and it’s not. Without this, none of his other wild work would make any sense. And my life wouldn’t either.
Bob Dylan – Modern Times
When I was in sixteen, Bob Dylan released a new record. And it was fucking good. Like really fucking good. It sounded old, it sounded new. It was not the Dylan I was worshipping at the time. It was not “Blonde on Blonde” and it was not “Nashville Skyline”. And then it went to number one. The lyrics were funny “I was thinking about Alicia Keys/Could keep from crying/She was born in Hell’s Kitchen and I was living down the line/was wondering where in the world Alicia Keys could be…” What the hell was going on? Everyone has said everything about Dylan, so I don’t have to. This was in my ears from the time I was a high school junior, first times playing basement concerts in New Brunswick; first times smoking weed and rolling down the highway without a care, dreaming about a place beyond Jackson and being taking my then band of the time, The Boy Judas, on the road. This album made the drudge and compression of my home town just go away. I could wait a while. I wasn’t gonna run away, not yet.
Johnny Cash – The American Recordings Vol. 1
It’s one of my favorite folk albums. He sings such classic and rare songs, proving again that he is not just a unique voice. Cash had a deep understanding of the history of American folk, country, and blues music. His involvement with June Carter’s family ties him even closer to the very deepest root of some of America’s most human music. Cash’s 81st album, also known as “The American Recordings I”, marked his comeback after years of odd obscurity. His sound wasn’t hot anymore, he wouldn’t bend to other tastes as some of his compatriots did. The 80s were not kind to Cash in the industry, but he did live in Asbury Park during that time (there’s even a book about it*) in the Berkeley-Carteret Hotel. One reason he stayed in Asbury Park was he liked the authentic Italian food. Hell yea. When the 90s came around he got hooked up with Rick Rubin and they decided to do what Cash did best. Just sing over guitar. No band. No embellishment or keyboards. Just pure Cash. Just listen to it.
The Rolling Stones – Exile On Main St.
They got a really scary vibe on this record. One need only read about the sessions to know why. Not my favorite Stones, but “Sweet Virginia” really begins the beautiful side-genre of Country Stones songs, one of my favorite parts of the catalogue. You can hear influences in some of the strumming patterns we use in our country songs, all Keith. The pure blues songs are my favorites, like “Shake Your Hips” and “Stop Breaking Down”. This is James’ favorite, but I’m a “Sticky Fingers” guy myself.
Willie Nelson – Phases And Stages
No disagreement here. There comes a time when everything is really fucked up, and it’s unfixable. And it sucks, and you don’t know what to do. That’s when you need to listen to “Phases and Stages” for the first time. This is right in Willie’s sweet spot. We love his early country records, but if you wanna talk about his breakout years, this is probably his most overlooked (in favor of “The Red Headed Stranger”), but strongest album. It’s more of a song cycle than a concept album. Themes appear and reappear, the “Phases and Stages” coda is repeated throughout the album at key moments. And if you don’t like “Sister’s Coming Home/Down By The Corner Beer Joint” you are prejudiced for some odd reason. “Pretend I Never Happened” and “(How Will I Know) I’m Falling In Love Again” take country sadness to the black hole event horizon. No one does it better. No one should try.
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