Words by Rose Skelton
It might not come as a surprise to those familiar with the music of genius banjo player Noam Pikelny that this album requires a little bit of explanation. Kentuckian Bill Monroe (1911-1996) is considered to be the creator of bluegrass music, and Kenny Baker (1926-2011) was the long-term fiddle player in his band. In 1976 Baker recorded an album of Monroe’s songs that had been passed down to him. This album is, to many, the seminal piece of music from the bluegrass repertoire.
Noam Pikelny, a member of Punch Brothers and other alt-bluegrass bands, thought he would revisit a reworking of Monroe’s songs, taking the incredibly complex fiddle tunes and transcribing them note for note to the banjo, whilst working hard to keep his own voice. The result? A mammoth collection of tunes such as the swinging ‘Mississippi Waltz’, which sings with Pikelny’s characteristic careful and complex vibe and ‘Wheel Hoss’, so fast it makes the head spin. Pikelny performs it here with incredible precision, something that can in fact be said for the whole album. This is definitely an album that will appeal to bluegrass geeks, but – as is Pikelny’s gift – he makes it so enjoyable for the rest of us to share in too.
TRACK TO TRY: ‘Cheyenne’