‘Show Pony’ By Orville Peck, Reviewed
I only had one chance to see this legend-in-the-making cowboy, but since his show at Amoeba, Orville Peck has become a superstar. After the release of his acclaimed self-produced debut album ‘Pony’ last year – an album nominated for Alternative Album of the Year at the Juno Awards and long-listed for the Polaris Music Prize – Peck made a few TV apparitions, was added on the pre-pandemic bill of numerous festivals from Coachella to Stagecoach and even collaborated with Diplo. Diplo showed up at the Grammy Awards, flanked by Orville and Lil Nas X, and since the three men were wearing matching glamorous cowboy outfits, the gay threesome was the talk of the town.
Orville Peck has been hiding his identity behind his fringed mask since the beginning and even though you could call this a gimmick or a distraction, it works marvelous well with the persona he has created, the mysterious lonesome cowboy with a dark baritone riding alone in the night. Peck is not using any trick but he has said in interviews that the mask helps him be more authentic: ‘My mask helps eliminate pretense, and this idea of having to go on stage and perform as someone or something I’m not,’ he said to the magazine the Boot. If there is an obvious element of theatricality in everything he does, theatricality can work or fail flat. In his case, his enigmatic but totally warm personality works marvelously on a crowd, I have witnessed it.
Orville Peck’s second release, a 6-song EP entitled ‘Show Pony’ that has been out for just a few days, is his first release with a major label (Columbia) and works little the little sister of ‘Pony,’ although he managed to get a big star: If he keeps up with his sad/goth cowboy imagery, the EP includes the rodeo-stadium pop-anthem ‘Legends Never Die’ that Orville sings with Canadian country icon Shania Twain. It’s probably my least favorite song of the EP, but certainly the one with the most mainstream appeal thanks to perfect male-female crooning harmonies. And if you want to catch them, they will be on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon tonight.
There’s nevertheless a lot more to like on ‘Show Pony,’ especially if you were seduced by his first album, ‘Show Pony’ works like a continuation of Peck’s exploration of country music, with story-telling-driven ballads, plenty of drama and swagger, it grows as a love story for country music, elegantly mixing the past and the future. ‘Summertime,’ with its Twin-Peaks-theme guitars in the intro, has dreamy soundscapes which make his rich vocals boom like a rodeo star; it’s the romantic nostalgic tune of the album, still delivered with a Peck bravado ‘And I, I miss summertime.’
‘No Glory in the West’ re-embraces his lonely globetrotter cowboy who keeps moving despite his delusions while his baritone has never shown so many nuances than during this song. ‘Drive Me, Crazy’ has a powerful keys-guitar punch going solo in the middle of the song, while Orville laments about a lover during a red-eye highway truck-drive, with a sort of Thelma and Louise road trip promise, ‘Said it was you and me ’til we died/So hands on the wheel and let’s drive.’ Kids’ is a charming melancholic guitar tune and like in many Peck songs, it is filled with many details building a unique atmosphere and storytelling, ‘Haystack boy and dust cake girl.’
The nod to the past comes with ‘Fancy,’ a Bobbie Gentry cover (also performed by Reba McEntire) about a girl turned prostitute by her mother to escape poverty, a powerful feminist statement completely dusted off its Gentry’s ‘60s retro arrangements or McEntire’s country guitars. Orville gives an angry and menacing tone to the song, with the deepest baritone of the album and a duel-in-the-sand atmosphere with minimal musical arrangement, building danger and violence, worthy of something you would hear on a Bad Seeds track.
With ‘Show Pony’ Orville Peck continues to fuse genres while his very personal voice glows with the charms and the shades of the crooners of the past. If he is still using the country outfit, he is also stretching the boundaries of the genre with a goth sensibility and clever lyrics, feeling simultaneously a bit out of place and very much at ease in his cowboy boots. He is the masked country queer hero, lost on the lonesome highway, the heartbroken heartbreaker with widescreen twangy tunes, mournful ballads and a baritone both strong and vulnerable, but made to capture everyone’s soul, all-sexes combined
‘It gets lonesome on the lonesome trail/So keep your head up high,’ he harmonizes with Shania on ‘Legends Never Die,’ Peck is riding high, indeed, and probably for a long time.