Noam Pikelny ain’t someone to fuck with.
He plays the banjo like Hawking is good at math and Gandhi was a nice guy. Sure, you’ve got to be a good banjo player to play in the Punch Brothers, or to win the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass in 2010, or to be named banjo player of the year by the International Bluegrass Music Association … twice. Oh ya, he also won a Grammy for “Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe”. Does that seem like a funny album title? It’s because it is. It’s a banjo player, playing a fiddle player’s interpretation of a mandolin player, also known as a bluegrass swirly-twirl and incestuous threesome of stringed shit, or a B.S.T.I.T.S.S., which most people succinctly call bullshitting titssssss.
This album starts with the most beautiful banjo roll I’ve ever heard. It’s one of these songs where as soon as you put it on you’re fucking done, completely seduced, a puddle of tears and Americana tradition. More than any other genre, bluegrass has a way of plunging its hand into the chest and ripping your heart out. Noam sings on this album. He’s not a professional singer, which, I think is kinda nice. Sure, I’d love to hear some Alison Krauss, or (oh Jesus lord bless me) a bit of Emmylou, or (sweet little baby Moses all flowing down the river in a shitty handbag) the holy trifecta of the Oh Brother siren song singing bluegrass swirly twirling Gillian Welch, but, some albums aren’t about that. This album is like the cover suggests, Noam on his own island. A picture of a man just doing his thing.
Oh ya, Noam seems to have found a guitar and can magically play it … so fuck that guy. No, sorry, that just popped out of me. It’s just that his talent can be quite frustrating at times.
This album is meant to be a solo album. And like any good solo album, it shows more of who the player is, not just what they can do (Imagining listening to someone do scales really fast for an hour straight? If you can’t, just walk into any guitar shop for roughly 2 seconds). There is something great about hearing someone at the top of their game just relax, sit back, and sing of their favourite songs. Listening to this album feels like I’m hanging out with the guy. It feels personal and comfortable even when, technically, it’s insane. Unlike anyone else I can think of who is an absolute master of their craft, Noam is the most personable. And this is what gives this album that something extra. Plus … a banjo is just an excellent sounding instrument when played well. I’ll be putting this album, alongside his others, in the background whenever I need a reminder that no matter how good someone is at something, it gives them no right to be an asshole.