Carl Peterson

All Time Favorite Pirate Songs

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Scottish-born folksinger Carl Peterson is a bit of an anomaly. After emigrating to Canada in the 1960s to play in both folk and rock groups, he settled in the U.S. in the '80s, where he began releasing folk albums at a dizzying pace. Largely working within the traditional Celtic vein, he has self-released dozens of Scottish and Irish-themed albums, and even an unusual collection of old American ballads from the Texas Alamo which were inspired by Scottish music. On his 2014 collection, All Time Favorite Pirate Songs, he dips into the well of maritime music and sea shanteys. With his deep, resonant voice, Peterson is a perfect match for the material and his 12-string guitar playing is picked in an easy, familiar style. Although it is billed as a new album, it is obvious by the sound of the recordings that this is a compilation from his wide body of work. Dark and slightly lo-fi in tone, most of the recordings come across as vintage until the strange, Casio-keyboard accordion comes in, suggesting a circa 2000s home-recorded origin. Likewise, the amateurish drum machine and rattling, jaw-harp percussion track of "Maggie May" are also slightly at odds with the otherwise traditional arrangement. But unlike so many other poorly recorded homemade folk albums, even Peterson's late-2000s' recorded songs do not have the thin, uninspired, shiny digital sheen that generally speaks of a first attempt at Garage Band or ProTools. On the contrary, the album's weirdly employed keyboard effects and its odd murkiness, give it some heft, amping up the sonic mysticism of songs like "Sonny's Dream" and "Three Score and Ten," giving them an almost psychedelic treatment. The well-known sea ballad "Greenland Whale Fisheries" gets a cleaner treatment, as does the Irish classic "Molly Malone," but you can actually hear the vinyl scratches on the excellent "Ballad of Sam Hall." Regardless of the varying sonic qualities and occasionally compromising arrangements, Pirate Songs is ultimately a compelling collection of some of the genre's best songs by a veteran singer who has obvious affection and warmth for his material.

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