This jazzy instrumental track sounds pretty laid back for a character as rough-edged as a pirate queen. But Brown’s banjo picking (and the work of her fellow musicians on the record) is flawless and a pleasure to listen to.
This gem is from McGuinn’s mid-1970s album Cardiff Rose (which also includes an excellent co-write from one Mr. Kris Kristofferson). Here McGuinn adds a shot of country rock to an Irish folk melody; that, combined with wonderfully descriptive lyrics about a man and the “day [he] first became a scurvy buccaneer,” make “Jolly Roger” one of my favorite pirate songs.
You might not have heard Donna Hughes’ name before, but you might have heard her work: Alison Krauss & Union Station and the Seldom Scene are just two acts who’ve recorded her songs. The biographical “Blackbeard,” found on Hughes’ 2010 album Hellos, Goodbyes, and Butterflies is equal parts entertaining story song and history lesson (didn’t know that Blackbeard’s severed head was displayed on the bow of the last ship he boarded? You do now.).
“Captain Kidd” dates back centuries; it was a broadside printed around the time of the (alleged) pirate’s 1701 hanging. There are several versions floating around by various acts including Burl Ives and Cowboy Junkies. As far as pirate songs go, it’s hard to find a better (or gorier) one than this. For a fascinating look at the song’s history and lyrics, check out David Kidd’s extensive research.
Juli Thanki is the editor of Engine 145 and a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, Bluegrass Unlimited, and M Music & Musicians Magazine. In 2011 she received the International Bluegrass Music Association Print Media Person of the Year award.