Orville Peck - Show Pony EP Music Album Reviews

The enigmatic masked country singer follows up his debut with more songs about lonesome souls alone together—and one standout duet with Shania Twain.

When Orville Peck croons about young men crying, he never reaches the word “cry.” He halts just before it, the silence hanging over what’s implied. On the surface, the enigmatic country singer is steely and collected, assuming the stoic veneer of the American cowboy. He shrouds himself in fringed leather masks, concealing all but his striking blue eyes. He sings about Marlboros in a rich, stately baritone that evokes Roy Orbison and Elvis. But Peck is gay and Canadian, and the glimmering torch songs on his 2019 debut, Pony, underscored the latent homoeroticism of the Old West—the undying commitment between a “lone” ranger and his trusty partner, streaking through ghost towns side-by-side. His outlaw persona toys with contradictions. Country music may be stereotyped as conservative, but Peck is seduced by another facet: its rhinestones and camp, the decadent flair of Gram Parson’s Nudie suit.
For decades, the cowboy has been a beacon for those who see their own loneliness reflected in the figure’s migratory lifestyle and estrangement. Though Orville Peck is a pseudonym, the singer believes it’s his most sincere project, “the most exposed that I’ve ever been.” But the contemporary trend for rodeo aesthetics has encouraged skeptics to receive Peck—a former punk musician who drummed in the vancouver trio Nü Sensae—as a gimmick. “Call it country (like Lil Nas X did), and you can compel people to talk and listen,” one critic contended. The more “yeehaws” in advertising copy and bolo ties on the red carpet, the less convincing a Western act may seem.

Part of what spared Pony from seeming hollow was its vivid detailing—the velvet gloves of the rodeo queen, the violent sister “strik[ing] gold” on someone’s eyes, the failed love affairs with the rider, the boxer, the jailer. The album’s particularities gave shape to ballooning emotions, the bliss of a heady dare like “baby, let’s get high.” In that context, the cowboy identity seemed less like a gimmick than a metaphor, a matter of emotional and existential framing. By comparison, the original songs on Peck’s latest Show Pony EP are more vague. “Summertime,” the opener, is a wistful callback to a better season, anchored around a sad observation: “You and I/Bide our time.” But the stock coloring of the verses, which talk of “riding into the night” and “chasing the horizon,” pales against the eerie canyon roads and anguished memories of past singles like “Dead of Night.”

Show Pony’s most evocative original is the classic rock winddown “Drive Me, Crazy.” Two truckers ride out their days in an 18-wheeler, “November Rain” on the radio, as Peck relives their relationship with knowing fatalism: “Burning rubber wherever we go/Looking back on the orange glow.” The enduring image of two mavericks weathering the wilderness together recalls a touching observation from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke: that most noble task that two people could undertake is to “stand guard over the solitude of the other.” In Orville Peck’s world, the bond rarely lasts, but you can save the memory for later. He shares a similar comportment with Lana Del Rey, another artist who speeds forward, casting glances at what she’s left in her wake. The spare guitar ballad “No Glory for the West” harkens to Del Rey’s obsession with waning grandeur and the frail seams of American mythology. “Ridin’ past the best/And there’s still no rest,” Peck laments.

The EP’s two wild cards are both tributes to female country stars. The closer is a burly cover of Bobbie Gentry’s “Fancy,” which is interesting as an implied drag performance. But the overwhelming fullness of Peck’s voice becomes wearisome; he sacrifices sprightliness and wit in his delivery for growling power. Accentuated with bells, thuds, tambourine, and a sputtering guitar solo, Gentry’s lively tale about a girl escaping poverty through sex work takes on the melodrama of musical theater. The narrowness—or specificity, depending on your perspective—of Peck’s act already invites charges of being stiltedly one-note; the hamminess doesn’t help.

The Shania Twain duet “Legends Never Die,” meanwhile, is more pop and less “authentic”-sounding than what Peck usually attempts, but it’s truer to his playful vision of country as an outlet for fabulousness and glamour. In the music video, Peck steps onstage at a drive-in theater when Twain prowls forward in a leopard-print catsuit, sparkly fringe dripping down her sleeves—a callback to her iconic “That Don’t Impress Me Much” video. The two singers end up sharing the stage, swapping boasts in a cheeky, confident duet. “Takin’ orders never been my style,” Peck sings lightheartedly. Their tossed-out asides and easygoing camaraderie is delightful. For once, the lonesome cowboy doesn’t seem so solitary.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Orville Peck - Show Pony EP Music Album Reviews Orville Peck - Show Pony EP Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Friday, August 28, 2020 Rating:

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