Review: Noam Pikelny – Universal Favorite

Noam Pikelny is an exceptional and explorative musician known for his work with the Punch Brothers and, recently, with Stuart Duncan. That means he’s already sitting on top of the world, at least in the realm of musicians who were spawned in the rivers of bluegrass music.

Clearly this generation of super-pickers is undeterred by conventional musical categories. They can and will play anything and everything. Sometimes that is problematic for the listener, depending on one’s sensibilities. Fortunately, Noam’s thoughtful approach allows him to bring together much of his musical palette into a cohesive acoustic listening experience.

Noam is a prodigious banjo player. However, on this fine recording he is stepping out front, solo, with various banjos, guitars and as a singer. Noam wrote six of the tunes on this recording. We are greeted on this recording by the tune “Waveland” which exemplifies the kind of marriage between skillful, technically demanding playing and a satisfying sensory experience. Or was it just the rain coming down on my roof? I think it’s both, and I expect that Noam would think it cool that the link between his banjo and Mother Nature was a conversation.

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“Waveland”

There is a tendency sometimes to think of exploration and discovery in only a futuristic way. But, thank God, history is important; and you never stop learning and creating by looking back either. Noam isn’t afraid to play old-time banjo or pick up the guitar and play some beautiful Merle Travis-inspired finger picking. And, really, can that ever get old? Not to me. Finally, Mr. Pikelny unabashedly steps forward to sing, and we are rewarded with a tuneful baritone voice, natural, without a hint of over-wrought expression or stiffness. I think John Hurt and Merle Travis would be proud. We’ll give a nod to Gabe Witcher as well, Noam’s compatriot in the Punch Brothers, for producing this fine work: a well-focused, coherent and great sounding project.


Rounder Records

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