Country Music Is The Soul Of 'Yellowstone'

28 June 2024 | 11:21 am | Mary Varvaris

You can likely think of many TV shows utilising music as an essential storytelling tool, but can you think of many instances of a series getting people into country music?

Kevin Costner in 'Yellowstone'

Kevin Costner in 'Yellowstone' (Image credit: Stan)

More Lainey Wilson More Lainey Wilson

My family first asked me about a song featured on Yellowstone when we watched season one for the first time earlier this month.

The song in question? The Humbling River by Puscifer: the project of Tool and A Perfect Circle frontman Maynard James Keenan.

Unlike Keenan’s heavy metal reputation, The Humbling River is a sombre, near alt-country tune with a driving drum beat and a minor key guitar melody featuring harmonies from Carina Round, who also plays the tambourine and ukulele.

From then on – the end of season one, episode three – I knew we’d be in for something special, not just with the actors, storylines and stunning Montana ranches, but with the music.

It’s not often I get my phone out to Shazam music on a TV show these days, but Yellowstone forced my hand.

Join our community with our FREE weekly newsletter

In season one, episode eight, Yellowstone played Puscifer again. That time, it was Green Valley from the Conditions Of My Parole album.

On season two, episode four, it was the unmistakable Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit with Last Of My Kind. An episode later, Yellowstone locked in another song that my family immensely enjoyed: Nose On The Grindstone (OurVinyl Sessions) by Tyler Childers.

Other gems Shazam tracked down for me: Reaper by Wild The Coyote & Badd Wolf (also on season two, episode five), The Killer by Yellowstone’s own lead cowboy, Kevin Costner and the band Modern West (season two, episode six), and Plain To See Plainsman by Colter Wall (season four, episode one).

Now, at the end of season five part one – season five part two is set to air this November – Yellowstone has embraced the stars of today’s country scene, and nowhere is that clearer than on season five, episode seven when Zach Bryan – five of his songs soundtracked scenes throughout the show – appeared on stage.

In a moment of peace, Kevin Costner’s John Dutton and his family: his daughter Beth (Kelly Reilly), her husband Rip (Cole Hauser), his son Kayce (Luke Grimes), his wife Monica (Kelsey Asbille), and grandson Tate (Brecken Merrill) watch Bryan perform at the local fair in Montana.

While watching the cast enjoy some relaxing time is wonderful, the best part is watching a pre-Grammy Award-winning Zach Bryan and his band play.

In addition to Zach Bryan appearing in that episode, Yellowstone season five welcomed Lainey Wilson – who also performed on stage in a few episodes – as a character named Abby, a love interest for one of the cowboys on the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch.

When Wilson performed Watermelon Moonshine on season five, episode six, my family, who aren’t up to date with who’s hot in country music in 2024, commented that she has a “beautiful” voice, and they’re not wrong.

In an interview with Countrytown last year, Wilson said of her experience on Yellowstone, “The cast and crew have been amazing. They're just incredible people; I've learned that I just really like being creative, whatever that means, kind of stepping outside of my comfort zone and doing things that are a little scary because I feel like if you're not doing that, then you're not growing.

“And I love it. No matter what, songwriting is going to be my number one because that's what got me here in the first place. But I'm not scared to try it again, especially if it's an opportunity for me to share my music with the world; then you’re damn right I'm gonna do it.”

In a 2021 interview with Music Row, Sabrina Del Priore, the Senior Vice President of Creative Music Strategy at Paramount, revealed that fans have Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan, music supervisor Andrea von Foerster, and composer Brian Tyler to thank for the show’s embrace of country music.

Del Priore said, “Taylor and Andrea do an amazing job ensuring every note of music placed in the show serves a purpose. Along with Brian, they have created a distinct sound that not only allows for an immediate connection with fans of the show but partners like Spotify and Apple Music as well.”

Andrea von Foerster revealed that she discovered Zach Bryan on social media and connected the star with producer Dave Cobb (Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile), and his song Condemned was born.

“I asked Zach if I could pair him with a colleague of mine, Dave Cobb,” von Foerster revealed. “His management got him to Nashville, he recorded with Dave Cobb, and we used Condemned at the end of one of our episodes.”

Von Foerster added, “We have such a solid fan base that really loves the music. I always want to keep introducing everyone to new artists or local artists that they know and love.

“We certainly don’t overlook major label artists; we love Chris Stapleton like no other, but it’s nice to give a leg up to the up-and-coming folks.”

Zach Bryan said of the show’s use of his music on X (formerly known as Twitter), “Thank you so, so incredibly much for having the boys and me, @Yellowstone. Humbled and honored [sic] and don’t know what I did to deserve it”.

The use of country music on Yellowstone – music, in general, actually – is the best use of frequent syndication I’ve seen in years.

If writers and producers are the heart of a television show, actors and animals are the heart, and setting and plot twists are the limbs, then country music is the soul of Yellowstone.

Kelly Reilly & Cole Hauser in Yellowstone. Image credit: Stan

My musings on country music on the show—one of the most popular series on cable television—are hardly new. The Pioneer Woman, Country Living, Holler. Country, Saving Country Music, and Wide Open Country all praise Yellowstone for its soundtrack.

When thinking of other television series that have used music that’s defined episodes, we think of Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars becoming every show’s go-to “sad song” after an unforgettable needle drop on Grey’s Anatomy. We think of the pop-culture references and iconic casting of Carole King on Gilmore Girls (whose song Where You Lead was the show’s theme song for all seven seasons). Shows like Scrubs and House had great soundtracks, too, and Glee put its own spin on all sorts of classics.

You can likely think of many examples of TV shows utilising music as an essential storytelling tool, but can you think of many instances of a series getting people into country music?

The Yellowstone soundtrack eases viewers into an episode, provides levity in stressful moments, and platforms artists we love today. It’s moving, clearly curated with care and respect for country music, and leads to musicians becoming your new favourite artists.

If Kevin Costner being a cowboy, Kelly Reilly depicting a complex, sometimes cruel woman, or the gorgeous Montana countryside don’t do it for you, then maybe the soundtrack will.

The final episodes of Yellowstone will premiere on Stan on Monday, 11 November.