Show Pony: Orville Peck’s new EP is a Masterful Slice of a New Sound in Country Music

Show Pony: Orville Peck’s new EP is a Masterful Slice of a New Sound in Country Music

Smashing an older style of crooning with modern sounds and his own unique twist, Orville Peck has crafted Show Pony, a stunning country EP.

If you saw the word “country” and immediately felt like fleeing, I implore you to keep reading. I spent a good stretch of my life scoffing at anything labelled country, though I skirted around that label by claiming that the music I liked was folk, not country. But then I spent some time exploring the genre, listening to all sorts of groups from different eras. I found out that there’s a whole lot of music I like that is unabashedly country. Country as a genre is huge and is full of different flavors and textures. It isn’t for everyone, but country gets a bad rap. That all being said, I’ve never heard anyone quite like Orville Peck.

His voice struck me immediately, and there’s little wonder why. He is a clear baritone and his words are enunciated precisely. Orville Peck sounds more like a crooner or an old timey singer, but somehow even more so. There’s almost a theatricality to his voice. The instrumentation that accompanies his voice isn’t so old timey however. Some tracks lean into country, with acoustic and steel guitars, but others sound more like indie rock songs. All of this sound combines into something new, unlike most anything I’ve heard before.

It would be irresponsible not to mention a little more about Orville Peck himself. He almost always wears a cowboy hat and a mask with fringe hanging below, entirely covering his face. He wears the mask as part of an artistic image, to spark questions. He keeps his real name a secret and has only shared a few details about himself. He’s gay, and worked in theater in London after growing up in Canada.  His EP Show Pony was originally set to release in June, but he decided to delay the release to avoid stealing the spotlight from Black Lives Matter. 

“Summertime” opens the six track EP with a spaghetti western guitar and that crooning baritone voice. The song has a slow swaying pace, with twang and sliding steel guitars. But the line “Keep on rockin’ baby” brings distorted guitars and a sound that bursts the song open. There’s a quiet moment with a solo banjo lick, but the song quickly bursts back with full force. A slight echo and some gentle backing vocals add to the lush instrumentation. It’s undeniably a country song, but Orville Peck doesn’t shy away from embracing modern sounds.

The next track “No Glory in the West,” as the extremely cowboy-sounding title might imply, is  simpler, more stripped-down. With just an acoustic guitar and his voice, Peck crafts a mournful road song that refuses to give up all hope. It’s a common type of country song, but with a wider scope. “They say Paris is dead/Lived through London, drank through Memphis” begins the song. Orville Peck is a cowboy making his way internationally. “Nowhere left to go/Goin’s all we know” sums it up pretty well. It’s a solemn song, but it’s all about keeping at it.

Some simple piano chords with subtle truck sounds beneath open the next track “Drive Me, Crazy,” but drums and guitar rush in after a few lines, giving the song an irresistible momentum. It’s a song about lost love and trucking. The lyrics mix references to love, driving on the highway, and CB radio. Orville Peck finds poetry in a life on the road with lines like “Just you and me and the rigs we ride/Burnin’ rubber wherever we go/Looking back at the orange glow” and the bridge:

You shift on the gear, it’s been a long year

We’re droppin’ the hammer, got places to be

No time for the past if you’re speedin’ by me

Breaker-breaker, you there? Keep me company

After a ripping guitar solo in the middle, the song ends with a spoken word segment that sounds like a CB broadcast. It’s a brilliant and devastating coda to this trucker love song.

“Kids” is another stripped down tune, with constant plucked acoustic guitar accompanied by occasional electric licks. It has a more pensive sound, but it’s not a sad song. The lyrics have a nostalgic feel. The line “Runnin’ out into the night” appears over and over in this tale of two people intertwined, finding safety in each other. The other reappearing line “Neither one of us has died” is an understated victory. These two people just keep living their lives and making it through somehow. Peck’s voice is less forceful in this track. It’s gentler, kinder, and more thoughtful, making simple lines have some serious emotional heft.

The first voice you hear on “Legends Never Die” isn’t Orville Peck, it’s Shania Twain. Their duet is accompanied by electric and steel guitar, giving this song a loud and proud country feel. The two trade off singing, sometimes in the middle of lines and join together often. Their voices compliment each other well, and Shania Twain brings her country bonafides, lending the song a great feeling of classic and brand new coming together. The lines in the final chorus “Ain’t nothing in this world gonna hold me back/Sometimes, you gotta break away from the pack/But it’s fine, cause legends never die” show the confidence of this song. It’s a rocking country song by two artists fully confident that they’re crafting the kind of  music they love, just how they want to.

The closing song on the album is a cover. “Fancy” was originally written and performed by Bobbie Gentry in 1970, in a country style with added 1970s pop string instrumentation. Reba McEntire covered the song to acclaim in 1991, in a louder, more country rock style. The lyrics tell the story of a young woman whose mother encourages her to escape the desperate poverty she’s grown up in through prostitution. In the song, the young woman is successful, owning a “Georgia mansion and an elegant New York townhouse flat.” Orville Peck takes a different approach to the song. He keeps the instrumentation understated. Most of the song is only organ, feedback, and quiet hand drumming. The song has a menacing feel, and Peck sings with sometimes theatrical nervousness and sometimes barely contained venom. Peck does make a change to the lyrics that adds further layers to the song. He sings: “Starin’ back from the looking glass/There stood a woman where a half-grown boy had stood,” replacing Gentry and McEntire’s “kid” with “boy,” and adding a queer reading to a fairly well known country song. The song boils low with tension before bursting into drums, cymbals, and screeching guitar for the finale. It’s a stunning cover.

With his new EP, Orville Peck continues to show a new, proud voice in country music. He refuses to be tied down by the conventions of the genre and continues to evolve his sound. If country music isn’t your thing, I’d say you should still absolutely check this out. His sound is a unique amalgamation, and might be just strange enough to change your mind about some country. 

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