While country radio these days is filled with songs steeped in nostalgic imagery of pickup trucks, dirt roads and suburbia, Wyoming-born Ian Munsick weaves a thread of Western sounds and themes that defined an earlier era back into the genre.
The tracklist for his sophomore album, White Buffalo (out tomorrow, April 7, on Warner Music Nashville) advances that purpose. Dotted with song titles such as “Ranch Hand,” “Arrowhead,” “Horses and Weed” and the title track, the tracklist teases the songs’ ability to capture the spacious landscapes of Munsick’s childhood on a cattle ranch in northern Wyoming. They would tend to animals and mend fences by day, but when the work was done, his family — especially Munsick’s father and two older brothers — would play classic country songs on the back porch, or create new music in his father’s small home studio.
“From the time we were five years old, me and my older brothers were all playing piano, and that escalated into other instruments,” Munsick says, leaning back in his chair at the Warner Music Nashville office. My dad can play every instrument.”
Munsick and his two older brothers formed The Munsick Boys, and by the time he was eight, they were playing rodeos, dances and private events throughout the Rocky Mountain region. In high school, Munsick realized his creative endeavors pulled toward contemporary country. In 2017, Munsick released the fiddle and mandolin-driven “Horses Are Faster,” which gained traction locally, filling Munsick with the confidence to chase his musical ambitions to Nashville.
“Coming out of high school, the music I gravitated toward wasn’t as traditional as [my brothers’],” he explains. “Just being the youngest boy, I grew up with streaming and had access to a lot more music from a younger age. I had a lot of influences that weren’t just country music.” He cites Eminem, Fleetwood Mac and The Beatles (“my favorite band of all time,” Munsick says) as among those influences. “Eminem is one of the best writers and lyricists music has ever had,” Munsick adds. “He would kill it in country music, he would kill it in rock music.”
Munsick relocated to Nashville almost 10 years ago to attend Belmont University and pursue music. He signed with Warner Music Nashville in 2020; his major-label debut, Coyote Cry, was released a year later. On his new album, he collaborates with Country Music Hall of Famers Vince Gill and Marty Stuart.
Gill co-wrote and contributes vocals on “Field of Dreams,” which takes its inspiration from the 1989 Kevin Costner movie of the same name — though instead of referencing a baseball diamond, the song is a nod to the Wyoming plot of land on which Munsick’s parents raised their family.
“The ranch I was raised on has this beautiful, 30-acre pasture right at the base of the Big Horn Mountains,” Munsick says. “I’ve written a lot of my best songs on that back porch, watching the horses run on it and the red Angus cows grazing.”
Munsick’s father made his way to Wyoming from New Mexico, working on various cattle ranches and playing music. Munsick’s parents met at one of his father’s concerts and soon married.
“By the time I was about four, my parents didn’t want to work for anybody anymore,” he recalls. “So they bought their own land, and we lived in a trailer for about three years while they built their dream house on it. They raised us to work the land and be self-sufficient.”
Throughout the album, there are moments that also pay homage to Native American culture. Munsick grew up near the Crow Native American reservation that sits on the border of Wyoming and Montana.
“The reservation is probably three miles away from our house,” Munsick says. “A lot of the Crow Native Americans went to school where I did, and we played on the same sports teams and were friends. And cowboy culture is heavily influenced by the Native Americans — there is a lot of commonality, with the land and horses and cattle. As a country music artist, it’s important to bring your unique perspective on home. Being from where I’m from, I have an obligation to that area to bring light to the Native American culture and how it’s influenced me.”
Stuart co-wrote and played guitar on White Buffalo’s closing track, “Indian Paintbrush,” which takes its name from the Wyoming state flower. In its own way, the album extends the work Stuart began in 2005, when he released the concept album Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota, about the plight of the Lakota Sioux — and that of one of Stuart’s mentors, the late Johnny Cash, who released the 1964 concept album Bitter Tears: The Ballad of the American Indian.
“He’s as talented and humble as they come,” Munsick says of Stuart. “I knew he would like the idea for the title and we wrote it as kind of a tribute to the land. That’s obviously a common theme in my music, but I don’t think people realize that cowboy culture and cowboy lifestyle respects the land as much as we do. We live off the land.”
Resonating on an even more personal level is “Little Man,” a tribute to Munsick’s son, Crawford. Munsick wrote “Little Man” with Adam James and Ben Simonetti as all three men were expectant or new fathers.
“It is special, because all three of us had a unique perspective on being a dad; Adam came up with the intro line about the snow cone [“Little Man, with the snow cone in your hand/ Most of it’s on your face”], because his kid was two. I knew I wanted all the players on the song to be dads of boys, too, so they added that extra emotion to it. So everyone that touched that record is a boy dad.”
Cody Johnson provides another collaboration on the album, with “Long Live Cowgirls,” a tip of the hat to the tough-minded, independent women of the West. The two first connected in 2021, when Munsick opened for Johnson on tour — but it was Munsick’s wife and manager Caroline who sealed the collaboration.
“Cody would be side stage every night that I played, and I could tell he was observing how the crowd was responding. We already had the song recorded, but Caroline felt he should be on it and asked if he would sing on it. He went on his tour bus, listened to it and came right back out and was like, ‘Hell yes, I want to be on that.’ He believed in me and he’s helped me so much as an artist.”
The song is also the namesake of Munsick’s current tour, which will culminate May 16 with his first headlining show, at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Though country music today is rarely referred to by its former moniker “Country & Western,” Munsick and Johnson are among a growing crop of artists whose music draws from their Western roots — including Munsick’s fellow Wyoming native (and former saddle bronc rider) Chancey Williams, and a slate of Texas artists, including Bri Bagwell, trio Midland and reigning ACM Awards entertainer of the year Miranda Lambert.
“It’s just cowboy country,” Munsick says. “It’s trending, which is pretty much the exact opposite of cowboy culture, right? They don’t want anything to do with trends, but I think it’s a perfect storm right now for true cowboy, Western artists to thrive in country music.”