Noam Pikelny & friends | Schubas | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader
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Noam Pikelny

Noam Pikelny

Mike Witchet

When: Sat., Dec. 17, 7 & 10 p.m. 2011
Price: Late show sold out, $18, $15 in advance.
On his most recent solo album, Beat the Devil and Carry a Rail (Compass), banjo virtuoso Noam Pikelny straddles the divide between the past and present of progressive bluegrass. The five members of his core band include veterans like fiddler Stuart Duncan and mandolinist Tim O'Brien, but alongside them is one of his Punch Brothers bandmates, guitarist Chris Eldridge—and the music, most of which Pikelny wrote or cowrote, is almost all instrumental. The album's star-studded cast (with ten guest musicians) contributes plenty of stunning solos; Pikelny plays a banjo duet with Steve Martin on the standard "Cluck Old Hen," and Dobro master Jerry Douglas takes some typically lyrical turns. Many of the pieces hark back to the heyday of "new grass" in the 70s and 80s, others look toward the structural ingenuity and ambitious ensemble approach Pikelny explores in the Punch Brothers—the unified tangle of strings on "Bear Dog Grit," which features lead Punch Brother Chris Thile on mandolin, is utterly dizzying. For this tour he's joined by Eldridge and another Punch Brother, fiddler Gabe Witcher (who produced Beat the Devil), along with mandolinist Jesse Cobb of the Infamous Stringdusters and bassist Mark Shatz, who's also on the album. Aoife O'Donovan of Crooked Still, who delivers a lovely vocal on the album's version of Tom Waits's "Fish and Bird," will sing a few numbers. —Peter Margasak

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