Noam Pikelny has emerged as the preeminent banjoist of his generation. He is a founding member of Punch Brothers, a 3-time Grammy Nominee and was awarded the first annual Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass in 2010. Universal Favorite is the fourth record 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.
The new release 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.
Universal Favorite, 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."