‘Troubadour of Trailer Parks’ Celebrates 20 Years on the Musical Highway
It’s a big world out there, especially when you compare it to a town such as Ten Sleep, Wyoming, population 307.
But in the small-world department, Ten Sleep’s native son Jalan Crossland’s celebration of 20 years as a touring singer/songwriter will coincide with his appearance at the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Beartrap Summer Festival, August 2 and 3.
In addition to his songwriting and vocal prowess, Crossland is a virtuoso on both banjo and guitar. No less a picker than Spencer Bohren refers to him as “one of the finest guitarists in America.” To which Planet Jackson Hole adds, “More than just a great picker, Crossland’s performances feature graceful delivery and genuine character.”
Crossland, not one to brag, says only that he’s “probably as excited and inspired as I’ve ever been” as he enters his 21st year as a musician on the road.
As a reviewer from the Casper Star-Tribune puts it, “His lyrics often paint a stark picture of life in the Cowboy State, with tales of strippers and hobos, guns and alcohol, and descriptions of trailer park life. And yet, with a heavy dosage of humor, an endearing picture of the state emerges. Life might be rough-and-tumble, but the people are free and happy.”
“I don’t think I could be happy in the city,” Crossland says. “Wyoming is my home…all the freedom you have here.”
Crossland’s newest CD–and his first solo project–is called “Portrait of a Fish.” In some ways it’s a flashback to his beginnings, as the title song is the first one he ever wrote. It’s from the viewpoint of an artist who’s roused from his sleep by a knock on the door, only to find a large fish seeking his services:
“Good fish, why do you call / Hours before the dawn? / He said, ‘I seek a painter and understand you’re one’ / I’ve come many miles / From my home beneath the sea / Hoping you might render / A portrait of me…”
To which the artist responds: “I’ve never heard the calling / No, I’ve never had the wish / To be woke up in the mornin’ / For the portrait of a fish…”
The lyrics can be seen as a slantwise reference to the adversarial nature of art and commerce. It’s a far cry from when Crossland, at age 17, was living in Pittsburgh and playing parties with what he called “A series of big-hair, whammy bar, Iron Maiden wannabe bands” before realizing that his heart truly lay in what’s lately called alt-country.
Onstage, Crossland alternates between guitar and banjo. And not just any banjo but one he built himself–a left-handed model with six strings. The reason? “I’ve never been able to learn any of the really proper styles on the banjo, like the rolling Scruggs style or the knock-down frailing style, which my uncle used. So I built this hybrid-style thing, which most banjo players just find appalling. But it works.”
The same might be said of the songwriter’s rough-hewn but ultimately eloquent lyrics, such as one of his most popular songs, “My Home is On the Big Horn Mountains”: “You grab a fifth of Bacardi / I’ll grab a .44-40 / We’ll go out to the dump and shoot a TV / And I ain’t coming back here no more…”
Or the heartbreaking lyric of a failed love affair: “Checkout time / And the Sunday morning sunshine / Is a jury trial…”
One ancillary reward of his two decades in the music business was receiving a Wyoming Governor’s Arts Award. The Wyoming Arts Council cited “his large following and his work with high school students that made him a natural choice for the honor.”
When asked by a reporter about his favorite event of his career, he said he was unable to pick just one:
“I guess it would be the two decades I haven’t had to get a job,” he responded. “The music is a joy to do.”