Noam Pikelny, banjo player for the genre-defying Punch Brothers, is fast becoming one of the most celebrated banjo players in any genre.
The 30-year-old Brooklyn, N.Y., resident, was named “Outstanding Jazz Musician” at his high school in Skokie, Ill., in 1998.
By 2002, he was playing in Leftover Salmon, a popular Colorado jam band.
Two years later, Pikelny moved on to play in the John Cowan Band.
And in 2006, he found a home in what became the Punch Brothers featuring Chris Thile.
That band has been so busy that “Beat The Devil” is Pikelny’s first solo album since 2004’s “In The Maze.”
Last year, Pikelny won the Steve Martin Prize For Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass and an appearance on “Late Night With David Letterman.”
Martin joins Pikelny for an instrumental duet — Pikelny on bluegrass banjo, Martin on clawhammer banjo — on the traditional “Cluck Old Hen.”
“Beat The Devil” isn’t traditional bluegrass. It mixes several genres to create its own unique sound. But it’s a sound worth exploration by bluegrasss traditionalists.
Pikelny wrote or co-wrote eight of the twelve songs.
His guest list is impressive — Stuart Duncan, Chris Eldridge, Mark Schatz, Jerry Douglas, Thile, Bryan Sutton, David Grier, Mike Compton, Jeff Taylor, Paul Kowert and Alex Hargreaves.
Aoife O’Donovan of Crooked Still provides the vocals for Tom Waits’ “Fish and Bird,” a soft dreamy song. And Pikelny borrowed the late John Hartford’s banjo for the song.
Tim O’Brien sings the only other non-instrumental on the album, “Bob McKinney,” popularized by bluesman Henry “Ragtime Texas” Thomas in the 1920s.
The only other tune Pikelny didn’t write was Art Stamper’s “Pineywoods,” an uptempo fiddle tune.
Can’t find it in stores? Try http://www.noampikelny.com/.