Founding member of the Punch Brothers and one of the world’s best instrumentalists, Noam Pikelny is in uncharted water. For the first time ever, he’s singing. Well, maybe not the first time ever, but certainly the first time on a record.
Pikelny just released his fourth solo record titled Universal Favorite. Mixing a smooth baritone with a touch of humor, Pikelny’s rudimentary vocals nicely complement his virtuoso banjo and guitar playing. The 12-song offering features original tunes along with four cover songs.
In this exclusive video premiere, Pickelny showcases his beautiful picking on Roy Acuff’s “My Tears Don’t Show.” Pikelny’s version takes a plucky and spirited approach to a song famously played more slowly by Don Gibson. He flows seamlessly through different licks on the song, giving it a whole new life.
“I first heard ‘My Tears Don’t Show’ on John Hartford’s No End of Love album,” Pikelny tells Wide Open Country. “My initial thought was that this was another quintessential Hartford song. The lyrics are a bit quirky, the melody is catchy, and the timing is a bit crooked.”
But after doing a bit of googling, Pikelny discovered Hartford actually covered country legend Roy Acuff in his version of the song. Acuff included the song on his 1963 album (which Pikelny wryly notes Acuff “humbly” called Star Of The Grand Ole Opry).
“Hartford reinvented ‘My Tears Don’t Show’ as a slow bluegrass song with a rhythmic bounce that defies the laws of nature,” Pikelny continues. “The result is so successful, so Hartford-ian, that I convinced myself that the song couldn’t possibly have been penned by anyone else. I was inspired to follow in Hartford’s footsteps and take a stab at making this song my own, and in doing so I finally had a good reason to take my telecaster out of the closet.”
Mission accomplished. Pikelny manages to create something wholly unique with nothing more than some smooth telecaster picking and his voice.
Pikelny also covers Roger Miller, Josh Ritter and Elliott Smith. Amazingly, the entire album features only Pikelny all by himself. Which is a whole new approach to the concept of “solo record.”
As a member of the Punch Brothers, Pikelny helped put a new twist on bluegrass music. Then in 2010, he earned the inaugural Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo & Bluegrass. In addition to earning a $50,000 check, Pikelny’s status in critical circles skyrocketed. Since then, he made a hilarious “making of” video for Universal Favorite lampooning his “newfound fame.”
All kidding aside, Pikelny’s new album has so far earned universal praise. You can pick it up now, and be sure to catch Pikelny on the road — he’s in the middle of a 27-date tour in support of the album.