Album Reviews

Noam Pikelny

Universal Favorite

Artist:     Noam Pikelny

Album:     Universal Favorite

Label:     Rounder

Release Date:     03/03/2017


Whew. LOTTA LOTTA notes, all played perfectly. Noam Pikelny (Punch Brothers) is a three-time Grammy Nominee and winner of the 2010 Steve Martin Prize for banjo. Pikelny’s new album delivers true banjo artistry, a big canvas with colors from a broad palette, executed by a master. He manages to keep interest up throughout, with different styled pieces and textures on a variety of instruments that make you wonder if it is truly one guy. It is. And, in listening a first time, a few of the songs do sound like two people—BUT—there are no overdubs, side players, etc., just one instrument on every cut.

Classical influences, bluegrass, avant-garde, melodic, all are found on this new recording of new ‘impickable’ music. Picking favorite cuts I leave up to the listener, but the first one is absolutely great, and it continues. One surprise complement to this “banjo player’s record,” on a few cuts Pikelny demonstrates his mastery of “Travis Style” guitar to accompany his pleasant baritone vocals, giving us yet another side of his music.

This may not be the type of album one cranks up at a big loud party, but is well suited to be a background soundtrack to life. I like to read and/or write, as I am now, with an album like this playing. It is like a great classical record, where the familiar parts drift in and out, and in between you are on a journey that takes you there. Possibly, back to a place you’ve never been.

Simply put, if you want to hear just how well a banjo can be played, get this album. If you want to hear different styles and types of banjo executed perfectly and with taste, get this album. If you want to go on a “banjo journey” through different landscapes and styles and just how good one can be on this instrument? Well, get it and I bet you will find it in your playlist often.

John McEuen

A founding member of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (“Mr. Bojangles,” Will the Circle Be Unbroken), banjoist and multi-instrumentalist John McEuen gave Steve Martin banjo lessons, and later produced and played on Martin’s Grammy Award-winning album The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo. Emmy Award-nominated for production of The Wild West, Braving Alaska, McEuen hosts The Acoustic Traveller Show on Sirius/XM and tours with both the NGDB and solo. His latest album is the highly-acclaimed Made In Brooklyn, Stereophile’s Record of the Month.

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