The Top Ten Musical Moments of Outlander Season 4
Wbat were the best musical moments in Season 4? Blogger Anne Gavin offers her annual take on the top 10 musical moments of Outlander season 4.
The struggle is real to get through this latest Droughtlander. But, when the season soundtrack is released, it provides a brief reprieve from the longing when I am able to immerse myself for several weeks and watch the series with new eyes, and importantly new ears. Much credit, as always, has to go to Outlander composer extraordinaire Bear McCreary. As usual, his score is brilliant, original and exquisitely researched. Imagine scoring for a screenplay that constantly changes time and place over decades of a story? It’s the real challenge that McCreary faces as he looks to enhance the screen treatment of Outlander’s epic stories season after season.
Season 4 found Outlander transitioning to America. Bear’s score needed to help transport the audience to this new setting. Integrating Appalachian folk music, a.k.a., “bluegrass,” took the interpretation of the American colonies to a new level throughout the Outlander Season 4 score. Adding this bluegrass link brilliantly connected as well, the 1960s and ’70s where folk music enjoyed a massive resurgence. Time travelers, Roger, Brianna, and Claire would likely have been familiar with these musical notes. This highlights McCreary’s ability to score not just a time and place but the emotional journey of Outlander’s many characters.
McCreary also excels in finding just the right cultural notes to add to the score — always tricky business. Excel he did this season as McCreary explored Native American instrumentation to glorious effect. It’s reflected in many of the Top Musical Moments of the season but also sprinkled throughout the broader tapestry of English and American folk instrumentation in the Season 4 score. Beyond McCreary’s brilliance however, Outlander Season 4 included a standout contemporary musical moment that shocked at first, was debated at length and sparked intense conversation among the fandom.
We are blessed as Outlander fans to enjoy an interesting and evocative screen treatment of the enduring novels. Musical moments absent from the books add a secret sauce to my enjoyment of the series which always fills me with joy, as this story so often does. It’s a pleasure then to present the Top Ten Musical Moments of Season 4 beginning with #10 and working up to the #1 favorite moment.
Honestly, I hate to even talk about a Musical Moment in the season that isn’t a Bear McCreary composition, but as we have seen, Outlander likes to shake it up from time to time to give audiences an unexpected jolt as part of some of its more dramatic scenes. We saw this in Episode 3.04 of Season 3 with the use of the contemporary Bob Dylan cover version of “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” It took me a few re-watches to come around to this musical trope but in the end, I liked it and felt it was appropriate to the scene and the emotions being portrayed. Despite numerous re-watches of Episode 4.01, I can’t really say the same for the jarring use of the Ray Charles’ version of “America the Beautiful.” That said, I do think it stands out as a significant Musical Moment in the season for lots of reasons, not the least of which is the unexpected use of it in place of audible dialogue and the very deep messages it conveys about Jamie and Claire’s New World.
Fellow writer, Nikki Gastineau penned a wonderful blog post shortly after the episode aired outlining why she felt “America the Beautiful” was a great choice. I agree with many of Nikki’s points especially her point about no matter how you feel about the song — its history, meaning or reminders of the times in American history we are less than proud of — it made you feel something. I would challenge anyone who says it did not. Therefore, it was impossible to leave it out as one of Outlander Season 4’s Top Ten Musical Moments. Now when I re-watch, I focus on the amazing acting throughout the scene and how Jamie, Claire and companions’ individual experiences in these moments are awkwardly juxtaposed with the lyrics of this classic American tune. Perhaps at the end of the day, that was the point in using it. The use of the classic tune cannot be overlooked and therefore is my #10 Top Musical Moment of Outlander Season 4.
#9 – Episode 4.05 “Savages” — Jamie and Murtagh Meet Again — “The Familiar Blacksmith” (listen here on Spotify)
I think it would be safe to say that the Jamie and Murtagh reunion in Outlander Season 4 was a top Season 4 on-screen moment for Outlander fans, many of whom had spent a good deal of time campaigning for the beloved Godfather to remain part of the story. His brief appearance in Outlander Season 3 felt satisfying enough but we wondered whether in fact Murtagh lived or died in the 15 or so years since Jamie saw him last. The reunion in the blacksmith shop in Episode 4.05 was a heart bursting moment for me made even more weepy by composer McCreary’s original tune, “The Familiar Blacksmith.” So much of the tune reminded me of the Outlander Season 1 soundtrack. Distinct Scottish references flow throughout the song including fiddle and tin whistle. It’s a simple melody underlining the familial bond between these two men that transcends all of the New World-ness of the strange land in which they both find themselves. I absolutely loved this scene and how the music reminded us of a time long ago and far away but of new beginnings between these men and their story. It’s why The Jamie and Murtagh Reunion is the #9 Top Musical Moment of Season 4.
#8 – Episode 4.13, “Man of Worth” – Wahkatiiosta Tells the Tale of Otter Tooth – “Tale of Otter Tooth” (listen here on Spotify)
In Outlander Season 4 the Native American presence encountered by Jamie and Claire and compadres takes prominence in the story. No surprise that the production sought authenticity in the storytelling by bringing in First Nation actors to portray many of the Cherokee and Mohawk characters we see throughout the season. Simultaneously, composer McCreary felt he needed to support the Native American presence with the use of authentic instrumentation. According to McCreary, “For the majority of scenes, I emphasized drums similar in timbre to what would have been performed by tribes at this time, leaning heavily on double-headed pueblo style drums, shaman drums, and deer hide drums strung together.” In many scenes in this episode we hear this subtle instrumentation including during Ian’s successful run of the gauntlet and during Roger’s aborted escape attempt.
But, it was when McCreary decided to add a distinctly vocal feature to one particular sequence that I really took note of the unique musicality of the addition of Native American voices and instrumentation to the season. One such voice we hear is Native American singer, Jaraneh Nova, in the sequence in Episode 4.13, “Man of Worth” when Wahkatiiiosta tells the tale of Otter Tooth. I have to agree with McCreary when he states, “I was absolutely stunned by her unique music personality, and was thrilled with how she integrated her sound into the score and elevated the drama.” For non-book readers unfamiliar with the Otter Tooth story, this particular sequence filled in the gaps regarding the mysterious Native American man Claire had seen walking through the woods the night she was lost in the storm. The vocals in the sequence seemed to mirror the emotion of Wahkatiiiosta’s tale and as a viewer we came to understand the tragic tale of another time traveler whose story didn’t turn out quite so well. I loved how seamlessly this was added to the score for the scene and how faithful McCreary was to the ancient language and song of our First Nation ancestors. For this, the telling of the tale of Otter Tooth lands itself in the #8 position in the Top Ten Musical Moments of Outlander Season 4.
#7 – Episode 4.04 “Common Ground” – Jamie Fights the Bear – “Bear Killer” (listen here on Spotify)
Notwithstanding the major change in the book story here in that Jamie isn’t truly fighting a bear, but a man who looks like a bear, (never mind!) the accompanying music is striking for many reasons. The cinematic back and forth between Jamie’s stalking the “bear” and Adawehi’s tribal ceremony around the fire was high drama. Again, Jaraneh Nova’s vocals and Native American instrumentation added a haunting ambiance to this tension filled sequence. Including this type of cultural music — particularly in this sequence — adds so much to the story and packs an emotional punch as Jamie finds himself in yet another dire situation unlike anything he has ever experienced. It was a pleasure as a viewer to experience this classic scene from the book immersed in the ancient language and song of those that came before us. A prime example of where the book scene is enhanced by the visual and audible medium of television. No doubt then that this Moment is #7 in the Top Ten Musical Moments of Outlander Season 4.
#6 – Episode 4.05, “Savages” – Claire’s Cabin Chores – “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye” (listen here on Spotify)
Yes, I do love Outlander’s beginnings in Scotland get a nod in the Colonies. I am unabashed about this because I was drawn to Scotland via Outlander and the two will forever be linked for me. I can always count on composer McCreary to find the exact right moment to give that nod to the “old days” and in just the right context (see Musical Moment #9 above). Another such time was in Episode 4.05 when McCreary pulled out the old favorite, “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye” to underscore a charming montage of Claire’s cabin chores whilst home on Fraser’s Ridge. We remember “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye” on the Outlander Season 1 soundtrack where it was used under a montage of Jamie and Claire as Jamie tends to his duties as Laird of Lallybroch. The tune is based on a well-known Robert Burns poem of the same name. The words are put to the melody of the Scottish Minstrel Common’ Frae The Town. This is a variant of the tune to which Auld Lang Syne is usually sung — the melodic shape is almost identical, the difference lying in the tempo and rhythm.
As is typical with many of Burns’ poems, the original words are quite bawdy. They have been “cleaned up” in Anglicized versions of the poem over the years, but it’s quite amusing to read analysis of the original poem. Sexual connotations aside, I prefer to think of the song more as a symbol of happy family life, full of hope and a sense of belonging. I believe this is what McCreary thinks as well. In the scene at the 23:00 minute mark of the episode, Claire returns from a challenging couple of days helping fellow immigrants, the Muellers, and dealing with a sticky situation with the Native Americans. Jamie is away to Woolam’s Creek with Ian and it’s left to Claire to manage life on the Ridge. So delightful to see Claire’s domestic life, despite looking none too easy. The tune underscoring the scenes remind the audience, however, that life is good and Claire is exactly where she needs and wants to be. It’s so satisfying to see Claire and Jamie somewhat settled in their new home, making a life for themselves and more than surviving living off their *new* land. My heart grew a few sizes watching this scene and listening to this familiar Scottish folk tune. It definitely earned its place as the #6 Top Musical Moment of Outlander Season 4.
#5 – Episode 4.03, “The False Bride” — Roger Sings at Highland Games (click here for the video)
As most book readers know, Roger Wakefield is quite the musician and singer. It’s an important part of his character and many book fans hoped TV Roger would be able to pull off some of the more prominent musical performances in his story line. One of those was from Book 4 Drums of Autumn, upon which Season 4 of the TV series is adapted. Roger travels to America in 1970 to perform at a Highland Games in New Hampshire. In the television series, the venue is moved to Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina. It’s there where Roger’s long anticipated formal debut takes place on a quiet stage with an adoring Brianna looking on. The title of this episode is based off a very old Highland folk song also titled “The False Bride” but better known as “I Once Loved a Lass.” This enchanting tune is accompanied only by Richard Rankin/Roger on the guitar. It was an “Ah-ha” moment for many Outlander fans. “Yes! Richard can sing!” Actually, not only can Rankin sing and play the guitar but he brought a raw emotion to this very Scottish song that speaks of a jilted man and his unrequited love. We are treated to another more fast paced ditty on the guitar in this episode that Rankin also plays to perfection. Richard Rankin’s musicianship and surprising ease with which he embraced Roger’s musical talents land this moment in the Top 5 of Musical Moments in Outlander Season 4.
#4 Episode 4.01, “America the Beautiful” — Prehistoric Stone Circle — “Circles” (listen here on Spotify)
I am a sucker for the Stones Theme. It’s the one single thing I can look back on (almost 5 years ago) that hooked me on Outlander the TV show. It was its first appearance in Episode 101 “Sassenach” — the Dance of the Druids — that completely flipped my world on its head. Haunting and evocative, McCreary has repurposed the Stones Theme in every Outlander season. Outlander’s score has always been thematically driven and the Stones Theme is a timeless old theme that surprisingly works its way into each season effortlessly. In the case of Outlander Season 4 Episode 1’s cold opening, we hear the familiar tune and see prehistoric beings around a crude and simpler circle than our familiar Craigh na Dun in the Highlands of Scotland. As McCreary has said, “The theme has represented many things throughout the series, including magic, mysticism, journeys and longing.” And, in the case of Jamie and Claire and the Outlander story in general, it also represents an unexplained connection over time and space. I felt it was poignant and quite fitting to open Outlander Season 4 with this Stones Theme Musical Moment as a bridge to the Frasers’ full circle of life in Colonial America. I was surprised at the loud protestations from many in the Outlander fandom who thought this image and use of the Stone Theme was too in-your-face and unnecessary. Outlander fans are sophisticated and sometimes don’t enjoy obvious references to things they believe any self-respecting fan should be aware of. I chuckle at this at times but can understand that point-of-view. You can agree or disagree with the images of the prehistoric peoples and their stone circle ritual in the opening scenes of Episode 4.01, but for me it was a lovely nod to our magical story and link back to its beginnings in the Highlands of Scotland. No matter where the story of Outlander takes me, my heart is always in the Highlands. These opening moments of Season 4 land this musical moment solidly in the #3 spot of Outlander Season 4’s Top Musical Moments.
#3 – Episode 4.07, “Down the Rabbit Hole” – Brianna Through the Stones — “Brianna in the Snow” (listen here on Spotify)
Despite Episode 4.07 landing in many fans’ last place in the episode rankings for Season 4 (not mine, though!), I find one musical moment in this episode a hauntingly beautiful mash-up of one old theme and one new. The episode opens with Brianna safely through the Stones at Craigh na Dun and making her way across the Highland moors. Oh, how my heart soared seeing the beautiful landscapes of Scotland again as I am audibly reminded of the Stones Theme via wistful orchestral strings. Although the “Roger & Brianna” theme first appears in the premiere episode of Outlander Season 4, it was this particular treatment that caught my breath and gave me all the feelings I associate most closely with Outlander. In creating the “Roger & Brianna Theme” Bear McCreary says, “I drew heavily on both influences from the 1960’s and the bluegrass influence.” Finger picked acoustic guitars provide the foundation of the theme followed by a gentle melody usually with a mandolin. You can also hear the subtle Scottish reference and influences throughout even while simultaneously combining with some of the Appalachian inspiration. “My hope,” McCreary says, “is that this subtle sense of modernity serves as a constant reminder that these two come from a time closer to our own.”
It is the moments at the top of Episode 4.07 and Brianna’s dialogue-free trek through the snow, when I am filled with feelings of familiarity but also wonder at this beautiful new composition that symbolizes our story’s subtle transition to the new generation of Fraser-Mackenzies. In those opening moments of Episode 4.07, I wanted to be transported to that place and that time and the music took me there. The fullness of the Roger & Brianna theme is another genius turn by composer Bear McCreary. But, it’s the version of the theme within Episode 4.07 that lands the opening scenes of “Down the Rabbit Hole” in the #3 spot of Musical Moments of Outlander Season 4.
#2 – Episode 4.09, “The Birds & the Bees” — Family Time on the Ridge — variation of “Fraser’s Ridge” (listen here on Spotify)
Thirty-one minutes into Episode 4.09 there is a delightful montage of family life on Fraser’s Ridge. Aptly, a variation of the “Fraser’s Ridge” theme was used under these dialogue-free scenes. Farm chores, family meal-time and sweet moments shared between Brianna, Murtagh. Claire and Jamie flowed throughout the montage bringing a wide smile to my lips. What made this sequence even more poignant was the underlying knowledge the viewer had of the menacing news that Brianna was keeping regarding her attack in Wilmington. For a few moments, though, we forgot all that and could feel the glow these magnificent characters were feeling as the family was finally complete. Throughout Outlander Season 4, I treasured these warm, family moments. Just as Jamie and Claire had been seeking these moments since their violent and unexpected arrival in the colonies at the end of Outlander Season 3, I longed for them as well. Jamie and Claire’s often tumultuous lives can be exhausting at times for the viewer and/or book reader. So, it felt really comforting to breathe just a moment and enjoy these bits of peace in between the drama that inevitably comes. This lovely montage within an episode filled with drama stood out for me this season assuring its spot near the top of Musical Moments of Outlander Season 4.
#1 – Episode 4.03 “The False Bride” — Claire & Jamie see their New Home — “Fraser’s Ridge” (listen here on Spotify)
In all of my Musical Moments posts over the past seasons, there has always been a little bit of an internal debate as to which Moment would be my #1. But, from the first time this episode aired until the end of the season, I never strayed from my #1 pick. I might even go so far as to say it’s my favorite Musical Moment from all 4 seasons. It’s hard to knock my favorite up until this point — “Charge of the Highland Cattle” from Season 1 — down a notch but I might just be there.
It’s fascinating to read Bear McCreary’s accounting of how he and Outlander show runner, Ron Moore, conceived of the theme accompanying this moment. McCreary’s thematic approach to scoring Outlander has always involved using music to represent various places in the saga of a seemingly always adventuring Jamie and Claire. Therefore it was not a stretch for McCreary to envision a fresh theme for Jamie and Claire’s new beginnings in North Carolina and at their homestead, Fraser’s Ridge. In creating essentially a *new” Jamie and Claire Theme, McCreary relied heavily on bluegrass and Appalachian instrumentation including a glorious drums section. We hear the tune for the first time at the very end of Episode 4.03 “The False Bride” when Jamie and Claire stop on the overlook above the land granted to them by Governor Tryon. Jamie’s emotions are palpable as he realizes that the New World offers hope, a sense of home and the permanency that has been lacking for him and his family for some time. At this point in the season, I’d been hanging on to the longing myself for Scotland, not quite on board with the story having left the beautiful glens and mountains of the Highlands. I wrote about those feelings shortly after the season started. But, it was this scene and this gorgeous musical composition that finally put my soul at ease. Listening and feeling the amazing instrumentation, I was ready for the Frasers’ adventures in the New World and filled with hope for the life that so far had evaded them. The crescendo of the bluegrass and symphonic strings is breathtaking as the full version of the song rolls into the credits of the episode. McCreary says of “Fraser’s Ridge,” “Ron Moore and I did not intend this theme to completely replace the Jamie and Claire Theme…the idea was instead to augment their musical identity, by introducing thematic material with the sole purpose of supporting their new life in America, free from the memories of the past.”
This closing scene of Episode 4.03 is the obvious choice for the #1 Musical Moment of Outlander Season 4. I could never get it out of my head after the episode aired. Hearing the almost 5-and-a-half minute complete track on the recently released soundtrack cemented it for me. It’s on repeat in my car and will likely be for some time to come.
This moment moved the story of Outlander Season 4 to a totally different level for me and dramatically altered my lukewarm reaction to the season up to that point. I am along for this journey we call “Outlander” come what may. Book changes, character alterations, production choices — whatever it may be. The only thing I could not abide is Bear McCreary NOT scoring a season of Outlander. In a production that finds itself with a revolving door of a writers’ room, fluctuating executive producers and sometimes notable absence of the show runner, Bear McCreary and his deep understanding of the Outlander story is a north star for the series. For McCreary’s brilliant re-imagination and reinvention of a beloved theme and for this moment and many others where it is used to effect throughout Outlander Season 4, Jamie and Claire surveying their new home is my #1 Top Musical Moment of Outlander Season 4.
What was your favorite Musical Moment of Outlander Season 4?
Anne Gavin’s obsessenach tendencies have changed her life in many ways including providing the opportunity to explore Scotland, its people and many of the locations upon which Outlander had its beginnings. Follow Anne on Instagram here, at Twitter here or at Outlander Cast’s Instagram here, where many of Anne’s photos of Scotland are often featured.
*Special Thanks* and acknowledgement to Bear McCreary and his fascinating blog about composing the score for Outlander Season 4.