Like many people, we’ve haven’t been straying too far from home over the last 16 months. The pandemic was an unprecedented and uncertain time and one where taking stock of what is really important was a most vital activity. Soul searching is not always easy but if you’re lucky it hopefully leads to some kind of enlightenment. With their new outstanding album, Close to Home, Jackson Pines are here to remind us of how beautiful life is, that it okay to have fun, and that staying close to home isn’t always a bad thing.
Jackson Pines are guitarist/vocalist Joe Makoviecki and upright bassist James Black, life-long friends from the Pine Barrens who make gorgeous Americana/folk music that both reflect and honor that expanse of forest, swamp, sand, and the people that call it home. Though life has taken them all over the country they returned to a familiar location to record Close to Home. “Recording in James’s house in Jackson brought us back to how we first started making music. All of us. We all started in jamming in someone’s parents’ garage or upstairs bedroom packed with drums and amps. And it felt like that again, after a whole year of not playing together at all,” Makoviecki explains. “Doing a record like this, instead of at a fancier location-based studio, meant going back to how and why we started playing in the first place: to have fun with friends. And it just so happened all of us shared that experience growing up in Jackson in a vibrant local music scene. It proves music can remain fun and still yield recordings we’re happy showing people.”
That fun and exuberance the duo felt while recording is front and center on Close to Home. It’s a warm and beautiful record led by two outstanding singles released earlier this year. Opener “Anna Lee” is a bright and captivating love song about that special someone who is a safe harbor in a tumultuous world. It is sweet without being saccharine. His singing voice is equally matched with his nuanced lyrics. He’s a poet and it shows. Second single “Cry All the Time” is quite frankly stunning. Makoviecki has never sounded better than on this track, both soulful and heartbreaking. Gorgeous strings intermingle with keys and a distant harmonica to create a winner.
Elsewhere on the record are other wonderful discoveries. On “Bourdain” the bluesy guitar, honky-tonk, down and dirty rhythms and fuzzy vocals are a perfect combination honoring the chef who spent his boyhood in Leonia. “Ride” is a full-on romp that I can imagine blasting out the open windows as I roadtrip down the highway like Kerouac and Cassady. And try not to dance around to the infectious “Basement Daze.”
Part of the reason Close to Home sounds so amazing is that Makoviecki and Black surrounded themselves with musicians who add layers to this album that are both subtle and integral. Santo Rizzolo on drums, shovel, broom and towel rack, James Herdman on the fiddle and Roshane Karunaratne on Wurlitzer, B3, and piano are all operating on a very high level. The simple joy of such accomplished musicians getting together after so long have elevated the entire work.
I asked Makoviecki what the time not playing together during the pandemic taught him about songwriting. “That music is a sphynx that doesn’t care about time or feelings. It just is. Like taxes or the grave. And the dance is there to be joined into or not. And not playing live and driving around in a truck for a year made us realize how much we need it. We need this time and this work. We need to continue to do this, not because of any hope of redemption or fame or whatever. We just need to be doin’ it. To be able to do this again feels like they threw the fish back in the water, one more time. It’s fun to swim again.”
Jackson Pines mostly completed the recording with all live takes and that spontaneity has worked here to create one of the best albums of 2021. It is indeed fun to swim again.
Close to Home is available to stream everywhere but show some support and pick it up on Bandcamp.
All photos and album cover by Michael Kravetsky (@watermrk). Album cover edited by Steve O’Mark.
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