Orville Peck’s rich baritone voice hangs over reverberating twangy guitar in the opening track of Show Pony, his latest EP. Peck embodies a mystifying and stoic cowboy when he dawns a fringed mask to cover his face and a wide-brimmed hat, but his piercing blue eyes and tattooed arms reveal his real identity to be Daniel Pitout, former drummer of the Vancouver punk band Nü Sensae. He surfaced his alter ego in 2019 with the release of his debut album, Pony, an ode to latent homoeroticism in the lonesome Old American West. Although contemporary country music is often stereotyped as conservative, Peck is in tune with its quintessential roots in camp. The gay country artist’s affinity for ostentation and theatrics is inspired by the glamorous Nudie suits worn by country icons like Dolly Parton, Porter Wagoner, Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams in the 60s. However thrillingly nostalgic Peck’s aesthetic may be, his music and Johnny-Cash-esque voice are equally as such.
Show Pony compliments Peck’s debut album with impeccable continuity as the enigmatic country singer once again evokes a familiar loneliness reminiscent of an empty highway at 3 a.m. or a sequestered plateau filled landscapes at dusk. The music in the opening track, “Summertime,” swells and Peck’s once lonesome ballad is accompanied by harmonies as he yearns for a physically and emotionally warmer season. Peck puts his spin on the classic tale of fleeting summer love as he wistfully laments about two souls whose time together has run out.
Peck hails the songwriter and poet, Patti Smith, as one of his biggest idols and this is evident in his poetic songwriting and use of vivid imagery in tracks like “No Glory in the West” and “Drive Me, Crazy.” Armed just with his words and an acoustic guitar, Peck emulates the feeling of being a lone outlaw riding through an empty canyon in the EP’s second track. “No Glory in the West” is an understated yet standout song that encapsulates who Orville Peck is as a persona and musician. The lonely cowboy grasps at love in “Drive Me, Crazy,” an unorthodox love song like no other about two truck drivers passing each other on a highway like ships in the night. It’s a ballad of a brief but intense emotion and a love that almost was or could have been.
As much as Show Pony is a tribute to the queer experience, it pays homage to iconic women in country music. “Legends Never Die” picks up the pace of the album and marks a tone shift as Shania Twain joins Peck for the second to last track on the EP. The duet is more pop than Peck’s usual sound, but it’s fun and lighthearted, marrying the two artists’ music styles perfectly. The song accompanied by an equally exciting music video in which Twain dawns a leopard print bodysuit with gold fringe and joins Peck onstage for a heartwarming change of pace that makes the lonesome cowboy seem less forlorn.
The EP wraps with a cover of the trailblazing Southern Gothic queen Bobbie Gentry’s “Fancy.” Peck’s typically smooth crooning vocal style is replaced with thundering power as he retells the story of a girl escaping a life of poverty through sex work. Only this time, the young girl is a boy, and Peck embraces drag over dramatic reverberating electric guitar.
Show Pony is a thrilling follow-up to Peck’s debut album, showcasing his power as a songwriter and musician once again. He brings authenticity and rawness to the contemporary country world with a glamor and sound that evokes the best kind of nostalgia.
Written by Kelly Fletcher