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Published: 2013/08/13

Noam Pikelny to Release Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe

Noam Pikelny is set to release his next album, Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe on October 1 via Compass Records. The album is exactly what it appears to be: a recording of the Punch Brothers banjo player covering Kenny Baker’s 1976 album of Bill Monroe covers. Pre-order details will be released on August 20, and one of the album’s tracks—“Big Sandy River”— can be heard below.

Covering an album of covers is certainly an interesting idea, and Pikelny explained himself in rather hilarious fashion via a statement that was sent to his email list—most of which can be found below:

Howdy Folks!  

Noam, here, with some news that will surely change your life.  

I’m thrilled to announce my new album, Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe, which will be released October 1st on Compass Records. I’m sure there will be a healthy debate on Twitter and cable-news programs whether my decision to wear a cowboy hat on the album cover is a career-ending move or simply a glimpse into the Brooklyn of the future, but first, please allow me to explain the concept and what was going on inside of my head (and hat).  

Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe, recorded in 1976, five years before I was born, features twelve of the most classic tunes written by the father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe (1911-1996), performed by his longtime fiddler Kenny Baker (1926-2012). While many insanely talented musicians worked for Bill Monroe, Monroe would introduce Kenny Baker to audiences as “the best in bluegrass” (hint…hint…Chris Thile). The landmark 1976 album offered Kenny Baker’s refined and elegant renditions of the great Monroe instrumentals all in one place, essentially making it an instrumental Bluegrass bible for me and countless others.  

A few years ago I was searching for any source of joy in my life and I jokingly texted Ronnie McCoury asking him, “Could I get away with calling an album Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe?” Earlier this year, I came to the realization that during all that time that I was searching for joy and meaning in my life, there was something much more important right in front of me: a valid album concept that could be exploited for meager financial gain. So I started listening anew to Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe and spent two months arranging the Baker versions on the banjo, note-for-note.

While there is plenty of dress-up on the album cover,  I didn’t want this new record to be about musical impersonation. Kenny Baker became my definitive source, and I set out to make the tunes my own and develop a unique voice for these classic instrumentals on the banjo. Fellow Punch Brother, Gabe Witcher, agreed to produce, and this last May we set up camp for four days at Ricky Skaggs’ studio outside of Nashville, TN.  I was joined by my favorite bluegrass musicians in the world: Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Ronnie McCoury on mandolin, Bryan Sutton on guitar, and Mike Bub on bass. We adapted the entire 1976 album, track-by-track, using the original sequence. These guys played so beautifully; I’m convinced there is a real demographic of people who’ll buy this record despite the fact that I’m on it.  

Also, just down the road on YouTube, you’ll find this video of the man himself, Kenny Baker, playing Jerusalem Ridge and you’ll see what all the fuss is about. (Video can be found here )

And just a little reminder, I’ll be on tour this fall with Bryan Sutton, Luke Bulla, Jesse Cobb and Barry Bales. Will the Stetson make an appearance? Only time will tell. Tickets are already on sale for many of these shows.  


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