If Hudson County’s music scene had a theme song for 2021, it’s that famous showtune from Stephen Sondheim: “I’m still here!”
Through COVID and closings, bands unable to rehearse let alone play, and a thousand other challenges that seemed to pop up every week, music was played, albums, EPs and singles were released, and fans were entertained.
January saw New Jersey in a virtual lockdown, but even with live music impossible in person, performers took to the internet and interacted with fans virtually.
Nick Ciavatta of Friggin’ Fabulous Productions took his weekly showcase online, and Jersey City bassist Gregory McLoughlin might be headed for the Guinness Book of World Records with his Monday night livestreams. He’ll hit 88 consecutive shows on Monday, Dec. 27.
As the weather (and the pandemic) started to thaw in the spring, live music returned in fits and starts, thanks to stalwart promoters who found a path forward. Oddly, it wasn’t bars or restaurants that led the way but NJ Beer Company in North Bergen and Corgi Distilleries and 902 Brewery in Jersey City, which started hosting bands both outside and indoors.
“Dancing Tony” Susco came to the rescue as always, bringing outdoor shows back to the Harsimus Cemetery and reviving Downtown’s Groove on Grove, culminating in the most successful Ghost of Uncle Joe’s Halloween fundraiser to date.
And Hoboken’s First Lady of Rock, Geri Fallo, successfully revived the Fall Arts & Music Festival, with Jersey legends the Smithereens headlining the main stage.
Fans and musicians alike owed an enormous debt to Jackie Smith this year; her blog posts, playlists, and announcements at @JCMusicScene on Instagram helped keep everyone in touch and moving forward as a community. The JCMusicScene showcases at 902 Brewery proved a huge success as well, helping to spotlight both new and established acts on eclectic bills mixing rock, hip hop, and electronic music.
And then there was the music — scads of it, more than we could have hoped for given the dire pandemic of 2020.
January kicked off with Eddie Skuller’s dancehall remake of David Essex’ “Rock On,” Darren Deicide’s political diatribe “The Day the Music Dies,” Dave Entwistle’s “Silver Lightning,” and Beeman & Bannon’s old-timey but timeless “Will Things Get Better?”
In the remaining months of winter and into the spring, Jersey City metal vets Changeorder released a doom-metal cassette, the Funky JC’s gave us an album of instrumental jazz, Hoboken’s Psych-O-Positive struck a psychedelic groove on “Gummy Bear,” and James Mastro (of the Bongos, Health & Happiness Show, and the Guitar Bar stores) released his first solo single, “My God.” Union City’s Maravines released “Avon-By-The-Sea,” an album that used the Jersey Shore as a metaphor for contemplation and alienation.
As summer turned to fall, Hoboken’s Max Feinstein took his advocacy for hemophilia research and support to the airwaves with his powerful single “Dear Anxious”; Weehawken High School teacher Ane Roseborough launched her label On-E Records; and Jersey City’s Aevina made a bid for the pop charts with the delightful “Serendipity.”
The local hip hop scene had its exponents, too, with June & The Pushas, Billion Man Rebellion, and Leel among those releasing quality records. These projects teemed with collaborations, as emcees and producers pooled their talents and studio chops.
All of which brings us to the “Best Of” lists that proliferate at this time of year; they’re actually nothing of the sort. “Best” can’t be quantified with music or any art form. At best, these lists – including mine — serve as recommendations and commendations, a tip of the hat and a hardy salute to the hard-working musicians who created these songs, and a roadmap for adventurous listeners. In addition, you can find reviews of all these releases by searching NJ.com and they can all be streamed for free.
No matter where we go from here, be sure to greet 2022 with a song in your heart and a smile on your face, and we’ll get through the new year together.
Top Hudson County albums of 2021
HUDSON COUNTY’S TOP 15 ALBUMS
1. Forget The Whale – “You. Me. Talk. Now” (soundcloud.com/forget-the-whale)
2. Blue Vervain – “North Carolina” (bluevervain.bandcamp.com)
3. Val Emmich – “Mean” (valemmich.bandcamp.com)
4. Tim Foljahn – “I Dreamed a Dream” (timfoljahn.bandcamp.com)
5. The Cucumbers – “The Desk Drawer Tapes” (deena.bandcamp.com)
6. Crush Limbo – “Utility Drawer” (crushlimbo.bandcamp.com)
7. Supermutt – “Sinners Boast” (streaming)
8. June & The Pushas – “The Great Reset (anxiety or anticipation)” (juneandthepushas.bandcamp.com)
9. Commons 2 – “Suburban Lifestyle Dream” (listentothecommons.bandcamp.com)
10. Blueox – Self-titled (blueox.tv)
11. Leel – “13XXII” (leelbeats.com)
12. Billion Man Rebellion – “Ghost Lineage” (billionmanrebellion.bandcamp.com)
13. Reese Van Riper – “The Swamps Are Burning”
14. Psychiatric Metaphors – “Body Snatchers” (psychiatric-metaphors.bandcamp.com)
15. Ruby Bones – “Laser Tooth Tiger” (Mint 400)
Top Hudson County EPs of 2021
TOP 5 EPs
1. Jack Skuller – “My Disappearing Act” (jackskuller.bandcamp.com)
2. Tom Barrett – “Five Songs” EP (Mint 400)
3. Black Wail – “Born on Fire” / “Dead Mountain” (Rhyme & Reason)
4. Hudson City Rats – “Pandemic Pizza Party” (hudsoncityrats.bandcamp.com)
5. Royal Arctic Institute – “Sodium Light” EP (Rhyme & Reason)
Jim Testa can be reached at [email protected].
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