24th Annual Makin Waves Awards

The following is the Makin Waves Year-End Report for The Aquarian, featuring the 24th Annual Makin Waves Awards, Makin Waves Dirty Jersey Dozen, and Makin Waves Top 10 New Jersey Independent Albums and Songs of 2022. Enjoy, and here’s to makin waves with all of you in 2023!

For 24 of Makin Waves’ 32 years of existence, the Makin Waves Awards have honored the New Jersey independent acts who have released the best material and made the most waves with it. Once again, this is my Christmas gift to the New Jersey music scene: the 24th annual Makin Waves Awards. 

This year’s big winner is Matt O’Ree Band with three! Congrats to all the winners and Happy New Year to all of you! 

Band of the Year: The Happy Fits – This Hunterdon County-based indie-pop trio’s tidal wave went global with a trek to Europe in support of the summer LP, “Under the Shade of Green.” U.S. tour dates were non-stop throughout the year and a stream of videos promoting the album before and after its release was steady too. So much fun was had by all from this incredibly entertaining, down-to-earth band! 

Male Artist of the Year: Sean Tobin. After touring nationally in support of his third album, Ghost of the Arcade, this Asbury Park roots-rocker’s strong spirit was sought after for some of the top hometown gigs. One of the tastiest videos of the year also accompanied his impressive album’s haunting boardwalk-inspired title track. 

Female Artist of the Year: Katie Henry. Balancing on the sweet, folk-y side of blues, this North Jersey songstress took advantage of her German indie label, Ruf Records, by touring Europe twice in support of her sophomore LP, On My Way. Totally living up to that title, Katie bookmarked the year by charting on the Billboard Blues Chart and recently appearing among Blues Rock Review’s Top 20 Albums of the Year. This marks her second Makin Waves Award, having won this same prize in 2019. 

Album of the Year: JT Bowen‘s Dig Deep. With the help of his good friend and producer Arlan Feiles, a celebrated Asbury Park-based singer-songwriter whose rootsy blend of folk ‘n’ soul has delighted audiences around the world, soul legend J.T. Bowen has made a delicious comeback album. On Dig Deep, he mines eight of Arlan’s most soul-searching songs – and the results are soul-soaring. 

Best EP: Lowlight‘s They Know. This veteran Central Jersey outfit changed direction with new lead singer John Gleason of Roadside Graves, but kept right on keepin’ on with this strong outing on the seminal North Jersey indie Mint 400 Records. Even more atmospheric and a bit less rootsy than before, the songwriting remains strong while the music sizzles. 

Song of the Year: Alexander Simone and WHODAT? Live Crew‘s “Even Now.” This absolutely stunning track about God’s mysterious love, which remains abundant even though we don’t deserve it, is one of the most soul-stirring tunes I’ve heard out of the Asbury Park music scene. “Even now God is with us” despite all our enraging, frustrating differences in the face of hopelessness. Another way to say “God with Us” is “Emmanuel,” and there’s no better time to say that than Christmastime! 

Songwriter of the Year: The Vansaders. One of the most impressive albums of the year was yet another stellar one from the Johnny Clash-like rootsy punk outfit The Vansaders. All ten new songs on Caught in the Light are great, making for one of the Asbury Park band’s best albums, and that’s saying a lot because they’ve released several doozies. 

Best New Artist: Hooper. This alt-country outfit would go great with Williams Honor, a very popular country act also from Asbury Park. Hooper’s two singles, “Dallas” and “Colorado,” are like Poco and The Flying Burrito Brothers with more muscle. If you haven’t seen them yet, do so on January 14 for the Light of Day Festival at Langosta Lounge in Asbury and in their January 28 debut at Albert Hall, the Grand Ole Opry of the Pine Barrens. Oh, and I love their logo of a Pony Express rider holding a surf board. 

Best Live Band: Dogs in a Pile. The latest national act to emerge from Asbury Park, Dogs in a Pile tour unceasingly to California and back and can sell out The Stone Pony any time they want. This makes two years in a row for these road dogs as the Makin Waves Best Live Band. I’m looking forward to their next album when they’ll be in the running for Band of the Year! 

Tsunami Award: Musicians on a Mission. This award goes every year to the folks who are making the most waves behind the scenes… and let me tell you, from firsthand experience, Musicians on a Mission are just about the nicest group of folks with whom I’ve ever gotten to work. May they continue to raise funds for worthy causes while raising awareness about worthy local music! 

Best Vocalist: Eryn. Whether solo or as the co-lead singer of Matt O’Ree Band, Eryn’s powerful, sultry vocals make the souls of Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, and Janis Joplin smile upon the space of wherever she sings. You can hear what I mean on her latest single, “Beautiful You,” and her hefty contribution to Matt O’Ree Band’s new LP, Hand in Glove.

Best Guitarist: Matt O’Ree. Leader of the Matt O’Ree Band, this veteran six-string slinger, who, like Jimmy Law of Dogs in a Pile, started out as a wee lad in the Asbury scene, really outdid himself on his latest album, the aforementioned Hand in Glove. Fans of Led Zeppelin and Gov’t Mule will really dig the LP and Matt’s epic playing. 

Best Bassist: James Black of Jackson Pines. I’m like a kid at Christmas waiting for Jackson Pines’ next two records: an EP of mid-20th century Pine Barrens folk songs and fourth original LP since 2017. Meanwhile, I enjoy the roots-rock quartet live, as have a bunch of other folks, which recently led to a headlining spot at the fabled Stone Pony, but they’re just as good stripped-down at Albert Hall, and that’s because James Black’s acoustic standup bass-playing is as enthralling to watch as it is to hear.   

Best Drummer: John Hummel of Matt O’Ree Band/Anthony Krizan Band. With my own eyes, I’ve seen John save an important gig by subbing with only 24 hours’ notice, having never played the show’s music before. That’s because he’s a consummate musician’s musician who makes both incredibly busy touring bands he plays with, Matt O’Ree Band and Anthony Krizan Band, even better. 

Best Keyboardist: Billy Siegel of Cosmic Jerry Band. This sought-after cat of Whirling Dervishes infamy also gigs with Everlounge, Anthony Krizan Band, Dramarama, and Splintered Sunlight. I’ve known him since our college days when he was in The Bouncing Balls. I’m glad we’re both still rockin’! It’s an honor to give him this honor. 

Best Instrumentalist: Michael Squillace of Jake Tavill & Indigo Soul/Taylor Tote. Dude gigged in South Korea and Mexico landing him his third consecutive prize – the only artist to win a Makin Waves Award three times in row throughout its 24 years. On top of that travel schedule, Michael continues to raise thousands of dollars to help cancer patients with this annual Jammin’ for Jaclyn concert in memory of his sister. 

Producer of the Year: Joe Pomarico of Telegraph Hill Records. This lovable madman produced the two best songs of the year: Alexander Simone and WHODAT? Live Crew’s “Even Now” and Bobby Mahoney and the Seventh Son’s “We Go On.” Plus, every year he produces one of the New Jersey music scene’s best local music festivals: What a Wonderful Year, which returned December 29 and 30 to the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park.

Video of the Year: Rory D’Lasnow‘s “Power of My Love.” This poignant clip focuses on the power of a love between a father and son. Rory lost his Dad right around the same time I lost mine, so it really hit home like nothing else I saw this year. I’m sure many folks felt the same way when this road warrior traveled the country with his minstrel-like songs. 


2022 Makin Waves’ Dirty Jersey Dozen

Every year since the early 1990s, the Makin Waves’ Dirty Jersey Dozen has recognized the 12 NJ indie acts that have made the most waves.  By “made the most waves,” I mean they toured extensively in support of a superior new LP or EP that was promoted with well-received singles and professionally-made videos. Along the way, the act may have garnered a bit of national press and maybe won an award or two. The Dirty Jersey Dozen are presented in alphabetical order. So, here we go…

America Part Two: AP2 made waves with two national tours in support of the latest EP, AP2-niverse. The raucous trio released three impactful singles for the EP tracks “The Same” and “You Are All (…Splatter),” as well as a cover of Link Wray’s “Rumble.” All five of the EP’s tracks were treated to tasty videos. With Dimm Management behind them, America Part Two are sure to keep makin waves in 2023. 

Bobby Mahoney and the Seventh Son: One of the nicest guys within the Asbury Park music scene also deserves all the success he and his band can get artistically, especially with the inspiring anthem “We Go On,” the title track of their latest EP. Tireless road work included a couple of regional tours. See them at Light of Day Festival on January 13 at the Wonder Bar in Asbury with Dave Hause & The Me. 

Cathedral Ceilings: A hard-working Dromedary recording act who toured throughout New England, Canada, and the Midwest in support of their debut full-length album, Summer of Misguided Dynamite, and garnered some fine press doing it in such outlets as New Noise. They also released a couple of impressive videos for the singles “Nancy” and “Every Summer’s Eve.” 

Dentist: This beloved Asbury trio released their fourth album, Making a Scene, their second for L.A. indie Cleopatra Records. They played Cleveland and Canada in support of it, as well as a spot on the main stage of the Sea.Hear.Now Festival. Cleopatra released three solid videos for the LP tracks “New Dress,” “Check the Calendar,” and “Someone Like You.” The band will play Fisu Games Festival in Lake Placid in January. 

Doc Rotten: In support of their latest LP, the largely politically minded United Resist, this Trenton-based punk band toured the East Coast twice and released a great video for the lead single, “Psych Ward 101.” While not as active as previous years, Doc Rotten still made some tasty waves with cool tunes. 

The Happy Fits: Touring Europe is a lock for the Dirty Jersey Dozen, which this Hunterdon County trio did in support of their third full-length album, Under the Shade of Green. Half of the 12-song LP was promoted with some of the best Jersey music videos made this year. Yet another tour kicks off in April for the 2022 Makin Waves Band of the Year. 

Katie Henry: The 2022 Makin Waves Female Artist of the Year also toured Europe… twice! Her aptly titled sophomore LP, On My Way, was among the top 20 released this year, according to Blues Rock Review. But Katie isn’t about to rest on her laurels. She has early 2023 dates from Eastern Pennsylvania to Central Florida. 

Matt O’Ree Band: M.O.B. toured several times down to Florida, where bikers dig their Allmans-meet-Led Zep vibe heard on a bunch of great albums, the latest of which is the well-received Hand in Glove, featuring a couple hot vids. The band also nabbed three Makin Waves Awards for Best Vocalist (Eryn), Guitarist (Matt), and Drummer (John Hummel). 

Pollyanna: The best band out of Old Bridge since The Ergs! have released two full-lengths in as many years on I Surrender Records, onetime home of Jersey’s Midtown. In support of the latest, Slime, Pollyanna toured the nation and landed on MTV with the clip for “Relationship Anxiety.” They capped the year off with the rousing holiday single, “Christmas Garbage.” Touring continues in the New Year with Pictoria Vark on a Midwest trek in February and Crawlers on a West Coast jaunt in March. 

Sean Tobin & the Boardwalk Fire: After touring nationally behind third album, Ghost of the Arcade, the 2022 Makin Waves Male Artist of the Year’s strong spirit was sought after for top hometown gigs with dynamite band, the Boardwalk Fire, including January 15 at Light of Day with Jake Clemons, Doug Zambon of The Vansaders, Alexander Simone & WHODAT? Live Crew, and more. One of the tastiest videos of the year also accompanied his impressive album’s haunting boardwalk-inspired title track. 

Well Wisher: When they’re makin waves, they make big ones, and that continued to be the case for Well Wisher behind another strong LP, That Weight. This time released for Egghunt Records, an indie based in Virginia, a state the band frequently play in the midst of regional touring. A clip for the opening track, “Need You Around,” also promoted the album. 

Yawn Mower: After years of releasing EPs and singles as a two-piece, this beloved Asbury act dropped their full-length debut, To Each Their Own Coat, on the invaluable indie, Mint 400 Records. A steady stream of regional touring followed with a larger ensemble to match the full sound of the LP and was preceded by a well-made clip for the single “Sixteen Minutes,” directed, edited, and co-shot by drummer-vocalist Biff Swenson. The band will play Fisu Games Festival in Lake Placid in January. 

The Makin Waves Top 10 Jersey Indie Albums of 2022 are from left to right and top to bottom by JT Bowen, The Vansaders, Sean Tobin, The Happy Fits, Lowlight, Williams Honor, Matt O’Ree Band, Katie Henry, Dave Vargo, and Renee Maskin.

Makin Waves Top 10 2022 Jersey Indie Albums

JT Bowen‘s Dig Deep. With the help of his good friend and producer Arlan Feiles, a celebrated Asbury Park-based singer-songwriter whose rootsy blend of folk ‘n’ soul has delighted audiences around the world, AP soul legend J.T. Bowen has made a delicious comeback with the 2022 Makin Waves Album of the Year. On “Dig Deep,” J.T. mines eight of Arlan’s most soul-searching songs and the results are soul-soaring. 

The Vansaders‘s Caught in the Light. Fans of The Clash, The Replacements, Social Distortion, Flogging Molly, Johnny Cash, and Bruce Springsteen will thoroughly enjoy this crafty collection of rootsy punk by one of the best bands ever to call Asbury Park home and the 2022 Makin Waves Songwriter(s) of the Year! 

Sean Tobin‘s Ghost of the Arcade. The 2022 Makin Waves Male Artist of the Year and his band, the Boardwalk Fire, sharpen the rootsy edge of the Asbury sound with this richly rewarding album, especially the hauntingly inspiring title track and such other Asbury-centric songs as “Memorial Drive” and “On the Corner of Sunset.” Hear it live January 15 at Light of Day. 

The Happy FitsUnder the Shade of Green. The well-structured, entertaining third LP from this incredibly hard-working, down-to-earth trio is as deeply meaningful as it is inventively fun – as were a bunch of accompanying videos from the 2022 Makin Waves Band of the Year.

Lowlight‘s They Know. This Central Jersey outfit changed direction with new lead singer John Gleason of Roadside Graves, but kept on keepin’ on with 2022 Makin Waves Best EP that’s more atmospheric and less rootsy than before, but the songwriting remains strong while the music sizzles. 

Williams Honor‘s eX. Fans of Dolly Parton, Shania Twain, and Patsy Cline will be amazed how expertly this country album was made with the well-hyphenated talent of beloved Asbury Park duo singer-songwriter Reagan Richards and guitarist-producer-singer-songwriter Gordon Brown. Hear it live January 12 at Light of Day. 

Matt O’Ree Band‘s Hand in Glove. If Janis Joplin sat in with Led Zeppelin or Etta James with The Allman Brothers Band or Gov’t Mule, it would sound like this amazing album featuring three 2022 Makin Waves Award winners: Matt, Best Guitarist; his soulful wife, Eryn, Best Vocalist, and John Hummel, Best Drummer. Heart it live December 30 at Hopewell Theater.

Katie Henry‘s On My Way. Balancing on the sweet, folkie side of blues lyrically and vocally while strutting with the best of them on her six string, the 2022 Makin Waves Female Artist of the Year released this sophomore LP on German indie label Ruf Records, totally living up to its title. Hear it live March 3 at Jamey’s House of Music in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania. 

Dave Vargo‘s Crooked Miles. Throughout this third album from the 2021 Makin Waves Songwriter of the Year are hints of Jackson Browne and Bruce Springsteen, sometimes on the same song, such as “Head and Hearts.” Whether expressing himself in a societal anthem, like “Half Bad,” or getting confessional, such as on much of the LP, Dave’s songwriting is top notch. Hear it live 7:30 p.m. on “2forTuesday,” his weekly show on Facebook, as well as January 15 at Light of Day.

Renee Maskin‘s Swimming / Dreams a River. One of Jersey’s best singer-songwriters stayed true to her Americana roots and was as prolific as ever with a debut solo LP, Swimming, released in January, and an immediate follow-up EP, Dreams a River, released in November – both on the invaluable indie, Mint 400 Records. Hear them live on January 13 at Light of Day and February 10 at Pino’s in Highland Park.

Bob Makin has produced Makin Waves since 1988. Follow Makin Waves on Facebook and contact Bob at makinwaves64@yahoo.com