David Royko Psy.D
Postscript to this review, October 1, 2002:
I've posted this review in honor of Noam Pikelny's new job as the banjoist for Leftover Salmon. Tim Dishman is currently the bassist for Special Consensus, and Casey Driessen is now leading his own band, Wise Child, when not on the road with Chris Jones, Tim O'Brien or Mark Schatz & Friends.
Updates, early 2009: Tim Dishman is with The Josh Williams Band, Jason Littlefield is a professional musician on the West Coast, Driessen leads his own bands and also works with Bela Fleck, The Sparrow Quartet, Tim O’Brien, Darrell Scott, Steve Earle, and Frank Vignola, and Pikelny went from Leftover Salmon to The John Cowan Band, and now is a founding member of Chris Thile's band, the Punch Brothers.
Update, September 21, 2010: NASHVILLE, TN – Compass Records artist Noam Pikelny has been announced as the winner of the first annual Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. Pikelny, together with Steve Martin and Punch Brothers, is scheduled to perform on the Late Show with David Letterman on November 4th.
Pikelny was selected to win the award, which includes an unrestricted cash prize of fifty-thousand dollars, funded by the Steve Martin Charitable Foundation, by a board consisting of Earl Scruggs, Alison Brown, Pete Wernick, Tony Trischka, Anne Stringfield, Neil V. Rosenberg, Bela Fleck, and Steve Martin. [From the press release]
Update, December, 2012: Pikelny's second solo album on Compass, Beat The Devil and Carry A Rail, has been nominated for a Best Bluegrass Album Grammy. Incidentally, so has Scratch Gravel Road, the latest disc (also on Compass) by Special Consensus, the long-running bluegrass band (for which Tim Dishman played bass in the early 2000s) lead by Greg Cahill, Noam Pikelny's early banjo teacher/mentor.
More about Noam:
PIKELNY IS PROS’ TOP BANJO PICKER (Chgo Trib, 2006)
CHRIS THILE (Bluegrass Unlimited, 2007)
Monday, August 28, 1995
BLUEGRASS BAND MAY BE YOUNG, BUT NOT SO GREEN
By David Royko
Last weekend, Mama Java’s in Evanston presented a band made up of four precocious teenagers. What was unusual was that they did not crank guitar amps to ear-bleed levels, or feature a drum solo, but instead took their best shots at the virtuoso demands of bluegrass.
Minor Bluegrass is lead by local fiddle and mandolin sensation Casey Driessen, a substantial talent who should make an impact on the national scene. An aggressive fiddler, Driessen is adept at alternating long, complex lines with stabbing shards of sound in a convincing and compelling manner. He is at home with both traditional bluegrass tunes like “Blackberry Blossom,” and jazzy numbers.
While Driessen is the group’s best player, the others possess enough strengths that they should have bright musical futures.
Banjoist Noam Pikelny, a high school freshman beginning this week, seems most comfortable with classic material like “Bugle Call Rag,” but does not shy away from tackling more modern finger-stretchers like Bela Fleck’s “Whitewater.”
As the evening progressed, he seemed to simultaneously relax and warm up, reaching a peak on a burning rendition of “Shenandoah Valley Breakdown.”
Bassist Jason Littlefield and guitarist Tim Dishman spent most of their time providing the band’s rhythmic foundation, but when they took their turns at soloing, they did so with some style.
Vocally, the group is uneven. Some songs, like “Life Is Like a Mountain Railway,” never quite gelled, while others such as “Walls of Time,” which featured Dishman and Pikelny, sounded quite good, with the song’s essential darkness emerging intact.
Though Minor Bluegrass lacks the essential rhythmic sturdiness that marks the best professional groups, one must also remember that they are playing without that ultimate Band-Aid, the drums. Bluegrass is as exposed a musical genre as any. That these players have chosen to excel in this tough style makes one willing to forgive imperfections.