Ryan Lee Crosby – Winter Hill Blues
Self-Release – 2022
9 tracks; 32 minutes
Ryan Lee Crosby started playing in bands in his native Massachusetts at age 14, influenced by Iggy Pop and Velvet Underground, as well as John Lee Hooker. However, as he grew older the blues called him and he has now produced a string of blues albums, particularly influenced by the Bentonia style of finger-picking and by Jimmy Duck Holmes who acted as a mentor to Ryan who dedicates the album to Jimmy. For his latest album Ryan traveled to Memphis to work with producer Bruce Watson (Fat Possum, RL Burnside and Junior Kimbrough). Ryan wrote seven songs, adds lyrics to a traditional tune and covers a Rev. Robert Wilkins gospel song. The album mixes five solo performances with four songs on which a rhythm section of Mark Edgar Stuart on bass and George Sluppick on drums appears.
Ryan’s nasal vocals are presented over music that is sparse, very much in the traditions of Mississippi blues, typified by the title track, a solo tune with falsetto vocals and the finger-picked guitar so typical of the Bentonia style. Lyrically the song presents a sad tale, winter being used symbolically for lost love. “Down So Long” has that typical ‘drone’ sound of the Mississippi as the rhythm section drives it along, the lyrics picking up on a traditional blues theme. The rhythm section also appears on opening cut “I’m Leaving” on which Ryan’s core guitar riff reminds you of “Smokestack Lightning” and on “Institution Blues”, an uptempo tune with some good guitar work on the intro before Ryan sings the first verse, making it the longest track on the album. This one sounds autobiographical: “I went down to church, I showed up to school to learn the way to wisdom and the golden rule.” Ryan seems to have been unimpressed by the experience! “Eight Years Gone” ups the tempo and features some good electric guitar work as Ryan reflects on the recent past.
“Slow Down”, with more falsetto vocals, and “Going To Bentonia” are both slow-paced solo pieces with adept acoustic guitar work. “Was It The Devil?” is well played, Ryan’s notes lingering in the air as he sings again in falsetto; the cover of “Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down” closes the album, another solo performance, this time with slide featured.
Although quite short for a CD release, existing fans of Ryan Lee Crosby will welcome this new album, as will those who appreciate the traditional Bentonia style of blues.