Orville Peck: Show Pony (Columbia) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, September 24th, 2020  

Orville Peck

Show Pony

Columbia

Sep 14, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Orville Peck has, in the two years since his self-released debut single “Big Sky,” ascended from masked outsider to the cusp of mainstream country stardom. The masked country singer, along with Lil Nas X, Sturgil Simpson, and others, has been part of a new wave of country outsiders that have been shifting the definitions of country music from its margins. Like others in this vein, the primary accusation thrown against Peck by country traditionalists is one of authenticity. The question of whether Orville Peck is just “country music for people who don’t like country” likely won’t be settled with Show Pony, his newest EP, either. However, his Columbia debut does put his music closer to mainstream country pop than ever. 

As always, the tension within Peck’s music is between country music’s nostalgic traditionalism and the outsider’s instinct towards innovation. The first two tracks play into the former, bringing to mind the sort of mid-century country revivalism that won Peck accolades on his debut. The opener, “Summertime,” is possibly Peck’s most heartrending ballad yet. It is full of lush instrumentation and an aching delivery in Peck’s rich baritone. The following track, “No Glory in the West,” is similarly nostalgic. The simple and sparse strumming sets the stage for a lonesome cowboy song, not unlike the sort you might have heard from Johnny Cash 60 years ago. 

Yet, it is Peck’s stabs at mainstream country stardom that are the most exciting on the EP. His 2019 debut, Pony, certainly showed that Orville Peck could pull off outlaw country revivalism as well as any. However, the prospect of an ostentatious, openly gay, Canadian cowboy hitting the heights of Nashville stardom is a much greater challenge to the image of country as a genre. In this respect, Show Pony is the most interesting set of songs yet from Peck. 

“Drive Me, Crazy” is a piano driven trucker love story, hitting squarely on the thundering open road anthems of Springsteen. Later, Peck delivers his most pop cut yet with “Legends Never Die.” Here he trades out lonesome roads for stadium lights in a duet with fellow Candadian country star Shania Twain. It is undeniably campy and theatrical but also owns that aspect, to its credit. However, the best track on the EP is the closer, a cover of Bobbie Gentry’s “Fancy” that milks every ounce of drama possible from the track. The build from a dusty and gothic beginning to guitar solo driven stadium heights is the best encapsulation of Peck’s ability to marry traditional country with genres left of field. He even goes one step further by reframing the rags to riches story of a small town sex worker as a queer experience—“Starin' back from the lookin' glass/There stood a woman where a half-grown boy had stood.”

Although the EP certainly has its high points, especially the opening and closing tracks, they also don’t quite paint the way forward for Orville Peck as an artist. He still is clearly indebted to his influences and relies heavily on mystique, style, and showmanship. These aspects are still just as unlikely to win over the types of genre traditionalists who argue over whether his drawl is a put-on. However, this latest EP indicates that Peck’s brand of country can move past what listeners already heard on Pony. He continues to put a fascinating and subversive take on country music as he moves closer to mainstream stardom. (www.orvillepeck.com)  

Author rating: 7.5/10

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Average reader rating: 3/10



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