Listen to the “Outlander” album, close your eyes, and see the rugged highlands of Scotland.
Emmy-award winning composer Bear McCreary is no “outlander” when it comes to television soundtracks. He has composed music for “The Walking Dead,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Black Sails,” “Da Vinci’s Demons,” and more. And his latest work does not fall short. McCreary claims in his blog that he feels as though “Outlander” is “the score that I was born to do.”
Outlander is a book series, which was recently adapted into a TV show, about a British woman named Claire who is pulled from post-WWII Scotland into the time of the Jacobite Uprising in 1743.
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On Scottish folk songs of this period, McCreary says in his blog, “I was awestruck by the ability of these songs to communicate hidden meaning, tales of tragedy and triumph, with deceptively simple melodic lines and evocative harmonic progressions.” The album has instruments, inspiration from composers, and source music from 18th century Scotland. Some songs are sung in English, some in Gaelic, and many don’t use or need any words.
Traditional Scottish instruments are featured, including the penny whistle, fiddle, accordion, bodhran (a Celtic frame drum), and of course, bagpipes. These instruments – along with haunting vocals, orchestral strings, and percussion – combine to make the soundtrack echo in the listener’s ears for days.
The title song is an adaption of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem “Sing me a Song of a Lad that Is Gone,” set to the tune of the Scottish folk song, “The Skye Boat Song.” Soloist Raya Yarbrough has a clear and timeless voice. After listening to the song a few times, you’ll be belting out the lyrics with her: “Sing me a song of a lass that is gone / say could that lass be I.”
Yarbrough also appears in “Dance of the Druids.” Her voice takes on a haunting quality that pulls you back to the pagan times of mystery and intrigue. The unearthly song progresses with the plucking of Celtic harps, sudden sweeps of the orchestra, and pounding drums.
The soundtrack has songs for every human emotion that can be expressed through sound. There is hope in the song “People Disappear All the Time.” It features the “Claire and Jamie Theme” (an ostinato that appears often on the soundtrack), alluding to the romance that is to come. There is despair in “The Losing Side of History,” as the song shifts into something dark and foreboding with the use of pleading strings. In “Clean Pease Strae,” there is unadulterated celebration in the driving percussion and energetic bagpipes. “The Wedding” features a lone pipe and an orchestra that sweeps bows over heart strings with its tentative beginning, and then bursts into joyous romance and bagpipes with the “Claire and Jamie Theme.”
There are many more songs that tell the story and enhance the listener’s world with their beauty and passion. With orchestras, small ensembles, and powerful soloists, McCreary creates music that’s delightful to venture through. There are songs that steal breath, vocals that inspire wonder, and bagpipes that burn with the fire of Scotland.
The album is a patchwork quilt; each song so different but sewn together with the same sounds. All within 51 minutes, your heart will pound with passion, ache with sorrow, swell with joy, and break with beauty. Listen to “Outlander,” close your eyes, and let the music take you away.