(4 out of 5 stars)
"An alternative country band with a strong bluegrass background, the Blood Oranges were fronted by Jim Ryan, a singer/songwriter who led the group on a custom-produced electric mandolin. Born in New York in 1957, Ryan was first introduced to traditional American bluegrass and folk as a child through the state university in his hometown of Binghamton, where a local country and blues organization sponsored shows highlighting the nation's musical roots. After spending his formative years attending bluegrass festivals, he began honing his own skills as a performer by playing with fiddlers and pickers of all ages and musical backgrounds. Ryan formed the Blood Oranges in the late '80s with bassist/vocalist Cheri Knight, guitarist Mark Spencer and drummer Ron Ward as a forum for fusing his love of traditional music along with his interest in rock 'n' roll; while Ryan's twangy vocals and bluegrass background stood as the dominant elments of their sound, the group's experimental nature aligned its music more strongly with the Americana movement of the 1990s than with any stripe of straightforward country. In 1991, the Blood Oranges issued their debut album, Corn River, a collection of bluegrass originals combined with renditions of classics like "Dig a Hole" and "Shady Grove." Both 1992's Lone Green Valley and 1994's The Crying Tree continued to refine the quartet's distinctive sound. In 1995, Spencer left the group to tour with Lisa Loeb, and the Blood Oranges promptly disbanded; Knight continued as a solo performer, while Ryan and Spencer ultimately reunited in Wooden Leg. - Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide"
Excellent Fusion Of Rock And Bluegrass
D.C. Hanoy | Athens, Georgia | 11/17/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The Oranges' basic sound is rootsy-rock with country influences -- think of, say, Creedence Clearwater Revival. Their vocal style, however, is post-Velvet Underground deadpan, and the real wildcard is a liberal injection of bluegrass. They come from Massachusetts, home of fellow rock/folk fusers Cordelia's Dad, whom they resemble in attitude if not sound. They do several traditional tunes taken from the bluegrass canon (actually from older roots, but I suspect the Oranges discovered them via the bluegrass world): "Shady Grove", "Dig A Hole" (a variation on "Darlin' Corey") and "Little Maggie". Like Cordelia's Dad, they adapt these tunes to their sound in a very natural way -- neither reverently sticking to tradition nor deliberately flaunting it. The impression given is that both bluegrass and rock are part of their tradition.
This album is a genuinely pleasant surprise. As a mandolin player myself, I'm predisposed to like rock bands that make the mandolin such an integral part of their sound. But I think the Blood Oranges will appeal to more than just Mandocrucians and bluegrass fans. The band is a four-piece, with both guitarist Mark Spencer and mandolinist Jim Ryan playing lead as well as rhythm parts (they each play both acoustic and electric versions of their respective instruments). The contrast between Spencer's rock leads and Ryan's obviously more bluegrass-influenced style add to the interest. After two fairly straight rockers to open the album, we get "Baby Down", an original that sounds just like bluegrass transcribed for a rock band. It features a brief mando solo that includes Ryan harmonizing with himself by overdubbing separate tracks on each channel. Their rendition of Ola Belle Reed's "High on a Mountain Top" achieves a perfect balance of the two sides of the band. "Houseboat" is another fine showcase for Ryan's mandolin, and the album-closing "Time Takes Away" pits chiming mandolin against growling guitar chords.
Ryan handles most of the lead vocals, competently but unspectacularly; bassist Cheri Knight sings the slow "Thief", which has a wistful quality that reminds me of "Hickory Wind", and harmonizes on several other tracks. Ryan also wrote or co-wrote most of the originals, showing a keen ear for catchy hooks that nevertheless sound more rock than pop. In all, a very impressive debut that confidently establishes a unique style for the Blood Oranges. - Stewart Evans, 1992