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 & roll; while Ryan's twangy vocals and bluegrass background stood as the dominant elements of their sound, the Blood Oranges' experimental nature aligned their music more strongly with the Americana movement of the 1990s than with any stripe of straightforward country. In 1991, the band issued its 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 1994, the Blood Oranges disbanded. Spencer later joined Lisa Loeb's touring band and Knight continued as a solo performer. Ryan and Spencer ultimately reunited in Wooden Leg.