Noam Pikelny (from the album Universal Favorite)
Noam Pikelny comes full circle on his recent release, Universal Favorite. Students first learning the banjo find themselves isolated. Until they become proficient enough, banjo players are not welcome onto stages or into groups. Once players can manage the four, five, or six strings of the banjo, they are immediately tossed into a group as members of Bluegrass, Folk, or Country collectives. On Universal Favorite, Noam Pikelny circles back to stand solo. The recording is his fourth release under his own name, though on albums one, two, and three, Noam was backed by a band. Noam Pikelney begins the album demonstrating exactly how magical an instrument the banjo can become. His playing on album opener, “Waveland”, is ethereal, nearly mystically. The banjo strings coming closer to the sound of a harp on a about five cups of rapidly-downed coffee. Universal Favorite offers instrumentals and vocals for its song roster, the banjo strings singing sweetly while Noam Pikelny’s baritone comfortably resonates in the far depths of a low register.
Universal Favorite is a Sunday morning album; a recording meant for listening relaxation. Noam Pikelny often plays notes that challenge the speed of sound though no melody seems rushed. The stillness of a hot summer day is the mood that surrounds “Sweet Sunny South” as Noam sings as the prodigal son longing for the peace of a homecoming. The strings hum like a semi-truck running flat out on the highway as Noam Pikelny tells the tale of a hitchhikers foolish decisions in “I’ve Been a Long Time Leaving, I’ll Be a Long Time Gone”. He plucks fat Country notes to cover up his pain in “My Tears Don’t Show”, puts “Old Banjo” into the heart of a Bluegrass tune, and scribes a mash-up of murder tales as the storyline of “Folk Bloodbath”. Universal Favorite scratches out rapid fire notes to instrumentally tell the tale of “Hen of the Woods”, lightly touches strings to allow sound to cascade down “The Great Falls”, steps high for a cakewalk through “Redbud”, and sweetens “Sugar Maple” with banjo gymnastics as Noam Pikelny picks a tender farewell from “Bye”.