Saturday, May 21, 2022

#555 > Ryan Lee Crosby - Winter Hill Blues (


2022 – Ryan Lee Crosby

By Phillip Smith; May 21, 2022

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It was two years ago I first heard Ryan Lee Crosby play at the virtual Juke Joint Fest in Clarksdale, Mississippi.  The annual event was thrown for a spin in 2020 due to Covid 19, so organizers cleverly decided to take the festival online in a virtual sense with free live Facebook streams, and app-driven tip jars.  That was my first time to experience Juke Joint Fest in any capacity, and I was totally captivated.  Crosby’s performance bowled me over with his unique way of playing and his pure blues authenticity.

Produced by the legendary Bruce Watson (R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, Robert Belfour), and dedicated to his mentor, the great Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, Winter Hill Blues is a sensational nine-track album of deep-delta acoustic guitar blues.  Eight of those nine tracks are wonderfully-timeless originals penned by Crosby.  Backing Crosby is drummer/percussionist George Sluppick (JJ Grey & Mofro, Chris Robinson), and bassist Mark Edgar Stuart.   

From the beginning notes of “I’m Leaving”, I’m onboard.  I love how Sluppick’s freight-train beat kicks in and Stuart’s bass notes penetrate right to the bone.  Crosby impressively woos me on guitar, declaring “Well I’m gonna leave ya child, I’m gonna leave when the morning comes”.  His genteel delivery of title-track “Winter Hill Blues” is beautifully executed.  There’s a definite Skip James energy surrounding this one, and it sounds wonderful.  The swirling hypnotic rhythm on “Down So Long” pert near puts me in a North Mississippi trance, and I enjoy it immensely.   Continuing along Bentonia blues tradition with songs about the devil, Crosby’s “Was it the Devil” is a poignant and reflective song about his mother’s passing.  Here he sings “It was the devil who made her do that thing, but it was the lord who gave her angel’s wings”.  He takes a hard look at the institutions we are most familiar with in his hard-driving blues anthem “Institution Blues”, and finds a hidden purpose of systematic control when he takes a peek behind the curtains.  The song could’ve been written at anytime within the past hundred years, but its words are ageless.  The album closes with a robust cover of Rev. Robert Wilkins’ “Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down”.  The slide guitar on this track is absolutely fabulous.

Winter Hill Blues is a wonderful album of traditional blues and it deserves all the future accolades it will receive.        




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Ryan Lee Crosby on Bandcamp

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