Jackson Pines’ bio tells me everything I need to know when it comes to describing the goings-on of Joe Makoviecki. Makoviecki is a 27-year-old singer-songwriter from the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, a surprisingly dense wood with meandering cedar streams and undulating sand paths that can lose even a seasoned hiker. It is here he discovered his love for honest, homemade music, which he has been making with fellow Jackson native James Black for the last six years. A bassist and welder, James and Joe have been playing folk music with their friends in Thomas Wesley Stern since 2010, traveling America and discovering it through the lens of folk traditions.
Now the duo has taken Joe’s newest songs and presented them here as Jackson Pines. Favoring bare, plucked guitar and emotional lyrics, their music has been described by Simone Felice, producer of The Lumineers’ Cleopatra in 2016, as “engaged in the pursuit of music and songwriting for all the right reasons, the honest burning hunt to reach the heights.”
Their first album, Purgatory Road, is out now on Bandcamp, Spotify, iTunes, and most common streaming sources. And while I’ve had the opportunity to review Joe’s main band projects in the past, I’ve never (until now) had the chance to listen to his full band solo projects. But suffice to say, I now have the music on my player and can listen to the sounds of Jackson Pines and their new record, Purgatory Road.
The record was produced by Simone Felice (who as mentioned earlier produced Lumineers’ #1 album, Cleopatra) during the summer of last year at Felice’s Catskills, NY studio. The boys have since been out on the road supporting the disc, playing such places as The Bluebird in Nashville, and a sold-out performance for Bobfest at the Count Basie Theatre. They’ve also been through VA, MD, PA and many other states and venues. Their upcoming shows include performances at Clearwater Revival in Croton-on-Hudson and then back home for a show at the Asbury Park Yacht Club on June 24, and the Monmouth County Fair on July 27.
The record is made up of 10 solid pieces of original music. Let’s take a listen and see what we come up with while exploring the musical journey of Jackson Pines.
“Even When I’m Gone” starts things off. Acoustic guitars finger pick their way through lyrical tales of romantic imagery. Joe reminds me of Ben Bridwell from Band of Horses. It’s not that he sounds just like him, but his arrangement and melodic skill that does. In these days of political anger and anthemic cries for revolution, it’s nice to hear a musician that steadies his hand and keeps his eye on the direction of compositional integrity instead of cheap jabs and sensational tricks. The production value here is centered on pure, real music and it comes across in spades.
Up next is the disc namesake. “Purgatory Road” features an almost 1950s arrangement feel along the lines of “Stand by Me.” Laid-back guitars flex against percussion, bass, and keyboards as Makoviecki sings his ode to the town where he was born. Preachers were praying, girls giving birth and the battle between good and evil raise their heads in survival on Purgatory Road. I love the way the organs roll in the back, giving an almost carnival bend to the overall atmosphere. Bluesy, folksy and filled with emotive passion, “Purgatory Road” is a dark and stormy jewel.
“Now or Never” churns out of the speakers with a back-porch Tennessee feel that reminds me of the early Replacements. Makoviecki delivers toned vocals and lyrics that extol the virtues of togetherness. Acoustic guitars strum against the pianos of James Felice, bass, and drums as Makoviecki tells us that it’s the right time to have it all. The build in the back end of the song gallops the band all the way to its inevitable and perfect conclusion. Great song.
“The Deep End” tells the tale of life as we know it. Jobs, kids, moving and old age all take their turns at the lyrical trough. Makoviecki lays it all out in absolute terms, and the focus is togetherness with the one he loves. Acoustic guitar strums and hums along with Joe like two neck-to-neck runners in a race. The bass work of James Black is rounded and warm, adding a fresh vibe to the song without additional unnecessary extra instrumentation clogging up the works. Short and to the point, this is yet another excellent song on the record.
“Sweetwater” combines percussion, bass, and guitar to come up with its amazing sound of this foray into old school bluegrass/folk. There are no pretensions on this record, and it comes through like gangbusters on “Sweetwater.” Makoviecki tells tales of the old days, utilizing imagery to get his point across. The river takes focus here, and Makoviecki uses poetic license to smooth death and drought as only he can. Once again, instrumentation is simple but effective as hell.
The springy, honky-tonk sideshow brilliance of “Loaded in the Sky” is up next. If anyone has a doubt about the subject matter here, I’ll tell you indeed; it’s about being wasted from love. Tears made from a man scorned and fueled with firewater hold court on “Loaded in the Sky.” Bass, drums, and guitars all serenade under the melodic guidance of accordions of James Felice of the Felice Brothers. Weed and booze mix as the medicine for heartbreak on “Loaded in the Sky.” One of my favorite so far.
I also wanted to mention “Princeton City Blues.” To me, this is one of the best songs on the disc. If you ever listened to the group Bread from the 1970s, this would be close to that sound. Mellow and instrumentally delectable, Makoviecki and crew lay down warm electric guitar lines over bass and acoustics as Joe reminisces of seasonal pains and rains that come for that special someone. I love the electric guitar lines that act as a hook of sorts between verses. The chorus on this song kills every time. It’s one of those songs that stays with you long after it is done.
There are a few more songs that I didn’t have time to get to, but I did listen to the whole record and found a seasoned writer that’s on to something quite good. Thomas Wesley Stern is a great band, but aside from that, Jackson Pines and Purgatory Road shows that Joe Makoviecki and James Black can hold their own as well. Well written and produced with little fanfare, Purgatory Road is a fantastic record for your ongoing collection of excellent New Jersey music. Kudos also goes out to Simone Felice for backing vocals and drum tracks. To get your copy of Purgatory Road and to hear more from Jackson Pines, head over to https://jacksonpines.bandcamp.com.