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Folkadelphia Session: Ryan Lee Crosby

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Music discovery on the Internet is all well and good; you’re surfing through the pages on Spotify, trying to find a related artists, you’re checking out what your favorite music blogs posted this week, or you’re endlessly scrolling down your Tumblr dashboard, clicking on streams. It’s a fine way to find new things, but nothing will ever beat word of mouth recommendation from a trusted music peer. Nothing. There is just some additional component, some missing link that binds a couple of music nerds together when one of them speaks “…but you’ve heard this, right?” or “…if you like this, you have got to make sure you check out this.” Maybe that component is the soul.

Such was the case with Ryan Lee Crosby, a Boston-based musician, referred to me by a favorite songwriter of mine, Allysen Callery, whom I count as a majorly credible source for musical knowledge and endorsement (plus, the words of Folkadelphia Sessioneers hold serious weight). Crosby was gearing up for the release of his fourth long-player, Institution Blues, seeing him channel Mississippi hill country artists, acoustic blues, and a touch of swirling psychedelic into his sound.

We ended up welcoming Crosby into the studio at WXPN at the end of the year. Alone, with arm and handfuls of his instrument, amp, and records, you couldn’t help but consider the loneliness of a solo touring musician and its lengthy downtime between gigs, the endless trance-like drives, the dingy sleeping situations. It’s enough to dissuade anybody, but here Ryan Lee Crosby was, chipper and excited to play for us, ready to weave a song of his own personal American blues.

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The Week’s Best Free MP3s, incl. Balance and Composure, Free Energy, Ben Smith

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Toy Soldiers celebrated the release of their full-length The Maybe Boys with a Key Studio Session. For their encore session (they first visited the WXPN studios in 2010) the rootsy blues rock band recorded a few songs from the new record, as well as an unreleased track called “Street Sweeper.” Stream and download “Heart in a Mousetrap” below and get the full set here.

West Chester’s Ben Smith has released a new EP called Ravine Road. The singer-songwriter recorded it himself in his home studio, using vintage equipment he picked up at the estate sale of his seventh-grade teacher. Listen to the title track below and get a name-your-own-price download here.

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Folkadelphia Session: Allysen Callery

If I was to use a single word to describe the music of Allysen Callery, it would probably be “timeless,” although a more accurate way to frame her songs is to say they exist “outside of time.” The Rhode Island based songwriter has tapped into a wellspring of creative spirit and energy that is directly linked to traditional ballads and standards, staples of the folk world. You can feel the presence of classic English poetry and Child Ballads, the collection of English and Scottish broadside ballads collected and published by early folklorist Francis James Child in the nineteenth century, in Callery’s thought process. These are nearly universal stories of romance, morality, mortality, history, and drama that have stood the test of time, influencing musicians and collectors like Harry Smith, Joan Baez, Peggy Seeger, Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention, Vashti Bunyan, and even more contemporary like Anais Mitchell, Marissa Nadler, Meg Baird, and Sam Amidon. Callery has distilled the very essence of what makes these stories ageless, forever relevant, and oftentimes still shocking, deeply meaningful, and utterly heartbreaking. It’s a real trip listening to Allysen’s most recent albums and hearing a ballad like “Young Edwin,” a variation on the murder ballad “Edwin in the Lowlands Low” (Roud #182), or “Long Black Veil,” a newer entry into the balladeering universe, written by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkins in 1959 and made famous by Lefty Frizzell, Sammi Smith, Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, and others, sandwiched in between originals. Without even realizing it, the seemless transition either makes you believe Callery has written the classic tune herself or that Allysen is arranging a full record of covers and renditions. In both cases, it’s an extreme compliment to Callery’s deft musicianship and inventive storytelling that she can simultaneously draw and utilize this immutable literary and musical tradition, while also putting down what she finds in her mind and imagination on paper and record. I think that Allysen Callery is writing the ballads that future folklorists will call “classic.” Only time will tell.

Allysen Callery made her first trip to the Philadelphia area to play a concert at MilkBoy Coffee (now Melodies Cafe) on July 20th. We are thankful she spent some of her inaugural visit with us.