Singer-songwriter-guitarist Aoife O’Donovan and banjo virtuoso Noam Pikelny have a long history of collaboration: two of their numerous bands, O’Donovan’s I’m With Her and Pikelny’s Punch Brothers, have shared many stages, they’re in the house band of Chris Thile’s variety show Live From Here, and they have sat in and even toured with one another’s various other projects off and on since first becoming friends and musical co-conspirators 2006. But a duo set from the pair, which first happened at the 2017 Vancouver Folk Festival, is a rare treat. Expect a set that includes songs from their other groups, the odd Tom Waits cover, and of course traditional bluegrass and old time music, the root of each of these extraordinary artists’ work.
Recognized for her ethereal voice and substantive songwriting, Aoife O’Donovan is also known for her collaborations. Called “a vocalist of unerring instinct” by the New York Times, O’Donovan is one of the most sought after vocalists and songwriters of her generation and her career has allowed her to collaborate with some of the most eminent names in music across a wide variety of genres. Co-founder of the bands Crooked Still and I’m With Her, O’Donovan is the featured vocalist on The Goat Rodeo Sessions, the Grammy-winning album by Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, and Chris Thile. O’Donovan also sings in the house band on the radio variety show Live From Here.
Noam Pikelny has emerged as the preeminent banjoist of his generation. He is a founding member of Punch Brothers, a 3-time Grammy Nominee and was awarded the first annual Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass in 2010. Universal Favorite is the fourth record Noam Pikelny has released under his own name, but it’s truly his solo debut. His previous solo efforts—including 2014’s landmark Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe—were full-band affairs that revealed his abilities as a dynamic bandleader while reinforcing his reputation as an inventive accompanist. The new release features only the man himself, playing lovely originals and covers that showcase his unique approach to the instrument and compositional flair. He recorded them live in the studio without accompaniment, coaxing a wide array of sounds and colors out of his instruments, embracing the challenges and exploring the new possibilities of the solo setting. And, for the first time in his career, Pikelny even sings. It turns out he has a striking deadpan baritone that conveys humor and melancholy in equal measure.