Noam Pikelny & Stuart Duncan$25 – $40
NOAM PIKELNY has emerged as the preeminent banjoist of his generation. He is a founding member of Punch Brothers and was awarded the first annual Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass in 2010 in addition to IBMA’s Banjo Player of the year in 2014 and 2017.
Universal Favorite (Rounder Records, 2017) is the fourth record Noam Pikelny has released under his own name, but it’s truly his solo debut. His previous solo efforts—including 2014’s landmark Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe—were full-band affairs that revealed his abilities as a dynamic bandleader while reinforcing his reputation as an inventive accompanist – with both albums receiving Grammy nominations. Universal Favorite features only the man himself, playing lovely originals and covers that showcase his unique approach to the instrument and compositional flair. He recorded them live in the studio without accompaniment, coaxing a wide array of sounds and colors out of his instruments, embracing the challenges and exploring the new possibilities of the solo setting. And, for the first time in his career, Pikelny even sings. It turns out he has a striking deadpan baritone that conveys humor and melancholy in equal measure. This album, he says, is “is the most personal statement I’ve put forward. The setting couldn’t be more stark and I think it lays bare my musical core. Most importantly, it’s an incredibly honest solo album, in that there are honestly no other people on this record other than me.”
Multi-instrumentalist Stuart Duncan has built upon his bluegrass roots to become an artist that defies categorization and surpasses the limits of any specific genre. The consummate sideman, Stuart has lent his particular taste and tone to countless artists and projects. Whether trading dizzying instrumental licks with the likes of Bela Fleck and Jerry Douglas, or adding complimentary fills for vocalists Alan Jackson and Barbara Streisand, Stuart has found a professional “home” both in the studio and on tour. From Robert Plant to Panic at the Disco, Stuart’s playing and influence can be heard among many of today’s top hit-makers.
The most recent evidence of Stuart’s cross-genre expansion is “The Goat Rodeo Sessions,” his collaboration with Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer and Yo Yo Ma. During the creative course of this recording, Stuart has opened his mind not only musically, but to a broader concept of composition as well. Each piece emerging with it’s own voice and life. Sony music will release the CD in October, partnered with promotional performances and a possible concert series.
When not active in the studio or on tour with others, Stuart can be seen and heard with The Nashville Bluegrass Band, where he’s been a contributing member since 1985. The band has won two Grammies, multiple IBMA & SPBMA awards, and has toured globally from here at home to the Middle East and China. Together, they continue to be an outstanding representation of classic bluegrass music in America – as relevant today as when they started.
What seems clear, is that whether it’s bluegrass, country, jazz, classical or a wonderful hybrid of them all, Stuart is just beginning to realize his musical potential. He’s looking forward to many new musical adventures and opportunities.
Elvis Costello has this to say…
“When I first played with Stuart, I was struck as anyone would be, by the beauty of his tone and his judgment about when to sometimes seek the essential middle distance in the ensemble with a well-chosen connecting line or timbre.
In time, at speed and in the heat of the spotlight, playing with The Sugarcanes, I was constantly startled by his access to the fire and fine danger of the music in hand, often delivering the most remarkable contributions off the back of some utterly self-depreciating quip.
He will sometimes arrive at the studio with a bag of splinters and wires from which he is going to reassemble some rare, lost stringed instrument, which speaks of his curiosity and care for both the art and the craft of music. He is one of the finest musicians I have ever had the good fortune to sing alongside.”