Published Aug 11, 2020In the two short years since releasing his debut single "Big Sky," masked heartthrob Orville Peck has experienced a meteoric rise from local scene veteran to verified celebrity. He's largely credited with popularizing 2019's wave of contemporary alt-country — and in closing out that chapter with his latest EP, Show Pony, it's clear that he'll continue demanding the attention he deserves.
His new project — touting a big-get feature from Canadian country icon Shania Twain — is undoubtedly steeped in major-label steez, rocking twangier-than-ever vocals, ballad-focused arrangements and narrative-driven lyrics. The six-track entry is the laid-back answer to Pony's call, but it's filled with just as much power, drama and bravado as its predecessor. Here, Peck recounts the same lonesome cowboy stories that earned him his stripes last year. Having spent hundreds of days of back-to-back touring during his 2019 breakthrough, it seems that he's now had time to reflect on his travels — stepping back from sappy love songs to straight, no-chaser Western grit.
Previously released singles "Summertime" and "No Glory in the West" follow in the steps of his canonical materials, where tracks like "Drive Me Crazy" and "Kids" employ more of his newly-brandished pop sensibilities. The latter tracks evoke the minor-key vulnerability of Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morissette and even Lady Gaga's brief country foray in 2011, Born This Way cut "Yoü and I."
Peck has always shown himself to be an educated appreciator of music, taking to livestreams and gigs to perform covers of classics from Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers and Whitney Houston, alongside takes on hits from Ariana Grande, Lana del Rey and FKA twigs. This mixture of old and new classics come together in the record's monumental collaboration with Twain. "Legends Never Die" is as close as you're likely to get to radio country for Peck, which is in no way a means to discredit the effort. It's quite the opposite — where mainstream country is undeniably catchy, albeit soulless, here Peck meets its calibre and rises above it. It's a county-fair-meets-Broadway self-fulfilling prophecy: legends never die. For her contribution, Twain delivers an uncharacteristically gravelly vocal performance on the track, lending to its integrity as a certified future golden oldie.
That considered, Twain's feature isn't even the best song on the record. Rather, it's the album closer, the five-minute rework of Reba McEntire's (Bobbie Gentry-written) "Fancy," that, through Peck's rich baritone, becomes an unmistakable queer anthem: "I knew what I had to do and I made myself this solemn vow / That I's gonna be a lady someday / Though I don't know when or how," he sings. Complete with rattlesnake sound effects and a twisted, ripping guitar solo, the song is a gothic, postmodern take on the hit popularized back in the '90s.
As short a release as it is, the tight six-track EP packs a punch. This is essential material for both country listeners and fans of Orville Peck, who, through his dedication to authenticity in aesthetics, joins the likes of Shania, Reba, Dolly, Johnny, Kenny, Merle, Hank and countless others among the genre's greats. Like his forefathers and mothers, it's Peck's penchant for timelessness that will help the release hold its weight for years to come. (Columbia)