Bentonia Blues Picker Ryan Lee Crosby Keeps Delta Tradition Alive In New Album ‘Winter Hill Blues’

Ryan Lee Crosby’s unique blend of world music influences creates a far-out approach to the Delta Blues sound of Mississippi.

With his new album, Winter Hill Blues, which dropped this past Friday June 3rd, Crosby fearlessly touches deep into the heart of the Delta sound. And it was his latest single, “Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down” – the final track of the album – that caught our ear and drew us to the album.

By performing his rendition of a tried-and-true classic recorded by the likes of R.L Burnside (with whom the producer Bruce Watson has worked with) and Mississippi Fred McDowell, Crosby’s vibrato-filled voice seems to be supported by spirits of the bluesmen who came before. With a stripped-down rendition of the song, the classic melancholic sound of slide guitar and Crosby’s voice sits front and center. A tambourine helps guide the music along as it all transports you to a front porch somewhere above the Mississippi mud.

While a scholar of Delta blues, Crosby hails from Boston, Massachusetts, and his early influences consisted of bands like Velvet Underground and The Ramones. After fronting a post-punk band called Cancer To The Stars, a love of blues music soon seeped into his soul.

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His knowledge of blues comes from frequent visits to Bentonia, Mississippi, which have culminated in meeting his mentor, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes. Holmes is a key figure of the Bentonia style of blues in which Crosby has become a pupil. According to Crosby’s website, Bentonia’s sound consists of “a haunting style characterized by high singing and eerie minor-key melodies, played on open-tuned guitars.” 

Evident in “Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down” and throughout Winter Hill Blues, Crosby has become a torchbearer of the Bentonia sound, and seems to be comfortable in this role. But another facet of his sound is his love of world music from India and Africa, in which Crosby sees many relationships between the styles with “an emphasis on melody, supported by repetition and rhythm.”

Crosby’s unique sound surely makes waves in the deep canon of Delta Blues music, and also keeps a crucial style of music alive and well in the 21st Century.

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