Review: Beat the Devil and Carry a Rail
By Chad B.
Have you ever heard the words “virtuoso” and “banjo” in the same sentence? If so, someone was probably talking about Noam Pikelny, an amazing banjoist with incredible talent. As a member of the acclaimed progressive folk band, The Punch Brothers, Noam released his second solo album Beat the Devil and Carry a Rail in 2011. With a stunning new outlook on the musical possibilities of the banjo, Noam Pikelny has revolutionized the field by revitalizing traditional songs and with ingenious compositions rooted in bluegrass music.
“I’m not shying away from something on the banjo just because it’s inconvenient or technically daunting” says Noam. You will understand this when you watch him play. He moves up and down the fret board with ease while playing super-fast banjo tunes. He appears to be so relaxed while playing that it can be hard to believe he is actually playing what you’re hearing.
Noam’s album starts off with a lively melody in “Jim Thompson’s Horse,” the name of which sounds like a traditional song but is riddled with mood and tempo changes that make it very interesting to the ear, which can be said for a lot of Noam’s music. In one of his compositions called “My Mother Thinks I’m a Lawyer” you can’t help but smile at the happy swing of the song and pat your toe while bobbing your head.
Noam didn’t do it alone, however. He got beautiful vocals from singer-songwriter Aoife O’Donovan on the emotional song of “Fish and Bird” as well as instrumental help from masters like guitarist Bryan Sutton and mandolin “genius” Chris Thile. These two speed things up in the song “Bear Dog Grit” which is a progressive instrumental that features some very impressive and very modern improvised sounds. Also, how can you leave out the famous Steve Martin? He joins Noam on the banjo for the traditional tune “Cluck Old Hen.” That’s right folks! Steve Martin plays the banjo! Mr. Martin also awarded Noam with the first ever “Steve Martin Prize” for banjo which got Noam an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman and a hefty check.
Needless to say, Noam Pikelny has changed the way the world looks at the banjo. In what started with artists like Bela Fleck, he continues the journey of making music that people don’t expect from the instrument. Go check out Noam and see what you think!