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Noam Pikelny

In The Maze – 2004 (Compass)

Reviewed by Kevin Oliver

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CDs by Noam Pikelny

Chicago banjoist Noam Pikelny is best known as the guy who replaced the late Mark Van in Leftover Salmon, but most of his experience outside of that popular jam band was in a purer bluegrass style, which makes it less of a surprise that his solo instrumental debut is a mostly bluegrass-leaning affair. His bluegrass focus isn't so strong that he doesn't include some jazz and classical elements, however, and some of the more lasting impressions are left by the slower tunes like, "Millvale Waltz."

Pikelny, at only 23, resembles a young, pre-jazz obsessed B+la Fleck, and these 10 acoustic tracks sometimes call to mind Fleck's early work on Rounder Records. Having David Grier, Matt Flinner and Todd Phillips along for instrumental support, Pikelny doesn't dominate the proceedings here as on so many of these types of instrumental solo showcases. Pikelny's name, however, is on the cover, and he puts together a set of banjo tunes that earn the unlikely description of "beautiful" in a way that a banjo album rarely does.