The virtuosic Punch Brothers and ex-Leftover Salmon banjo player's Rounder Records' debut, and fourth proper solo outing, Universal Favorite sees Noam Pikelny playing the role of one-man band on a set that covers everything from country and bluegrass to jazz and classical. Recorded live in the studio and comprised of seven solo instrumentals and five songs with vocals -- a first for Pikelny -- the 12-track set is as organic as they come. "Waveland" opens the proceedings with a delicate wash of elliptical, classical-tinged plucking that evokes the Punch Brothers' more regal moments, while the traditional "Old Banjo" serves as a fine introduction to Pikelny's uneven, but immensely likeable baritone, which shares some of the earthy resonance of Jake Xerxes Fussel. Pikelny proves himself to be as deft a guitar player as he is a peerless banjoist on a cover of Carl Butler's "My Tears Don't Show," but it's his trusty five-string that delivers Universal Favorite's best moments. The three-part closing act, which includes a pair of disparate but wildly inventive instrumentals, and ends with a homey and spirited rendition of Roger Miller's "I’ve Been a Long Time Leavin' (But I’ll Be a Long Time Gone)," perfectly encapsulates the album's simple, rough-hewn charm.
AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger