There is a proverb which states, "in the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived and how gracefully you let go." This saying became a mantra for Ryan Lee Crosby, who with his fifth album Busker on the Broad Highway, left behind an old identity and set out searching for a new life within the soul of the blues.
Through four new original songs and six blues classics by such artists as Son House, Skip James and Charlie Patton, Busker on the Broad Highway stands out in Crosby’s diverse discography as his most authentic performance to date. Paying homage to the early country blues recordings of the 1920s and 1930s, Crosby captured the album entirely live to tape, without overdubs or edits. Inspired by 78rpm issues on the legendary Paramount and Vocalion labels, Crosby heard these vintage recordings as both genuine products of true musical documentation and also as instructions for artists on a way of being present in the moment.
"I've been influenced by records in every genre over the years," Crosby says, "but nothing speaks in the same way as those early 78s of the self-accompanied country blues musicians. To me, that's the real sound of a soul searching for meaning in the world."
And this is exactly what Busker on the Broad Highway sounds like. The album is a sonic portrait of Crosby singing and playing guitar, with his left foot stomping against the floorboards. Much of the record's atmosphere is created by Crosby's collection of acoustic and electric 6 and 12 string guitars, most notably a customized electric Fender 12 string jazzmaster, which creates a shimmering sound that is unique within the blues canon.
The choice to strip everything away in production mirrors changes Crosby made in his personal life prior to the album's conception. In 2013, after 15 years of hard living as a nightclub musician, Crosby chose to follow a brighter path by renouncing alcohol and adopting a regular meditation practice. For him, these artistic and personal changes were part of a larger move towards spiritual and musical purity. He took this a step further by making a pilgrimage to the heart of the Delta, in Clarksdale, Mississippi, to test his mettle at the 2014 Juke Joint Festival. There, he performed some of his original material in a set with one of his closest comrades, Ted Drozdowski and his band the Scissormen. For Crosby, this experience was wholly affirming. "To look out from the stage and see the Mississippi sunset over endless cotton fields, with locals dancing and smiling to my music, was something I will never forget. That experience let me know that the blues can speak through you, no matter who you are or where you come from, as long as you play and sing your truth."
And truth is certainly at the center of Busker on the Broad Highway. As a document of an artist undergoing great change and growth, the album is not only an affirmation of faith, but also an expression of studious devotion and a testament to the inspirational power of music.
"To me, the title Busker on the Broad Highway means being a street performer on the spiritual path. It is about bearing witness to truth and beauty. Although the blues was originally known as 'the devil's music,' it has offered me the means to a deeper, more meaningful life. There is a popular misconception that in order to be a bluesman, one has to walk a hard road of late nights, tragic love affairs and poverty. Although I've certainly had my share of those experiences, I have found that getting closer to the heart of the blues has helped me to leave all that behind. Learning about this music which I love has been a transformational process that has helped me to let go of old, useless ways. The blues has soothed my soul and lifted my spirits, higher than any chemical ever has."
Set for release on September 26, 2014 by Germany’s Jellyfant Records as a 12” vinyl LP, Crosby will support Busker on the Broad Highway on a European tour in October with labelmate Allysen Callery and with regional dates in the United States.