Thu, Jan 30, 2020 at 4:00 AM
Orville Peck is country music’s newest outlaw.
His handmade, fringed masks, which obscure his features except for a pair of ice blue eyes, belie his deeply personal lyrics, while his ornate Nudie suits recall the golden age of country.
Since the March 2019 release of his debut album, Pony, on Sub Pop Records, the enigmatic singer-songwriter has been featured on NPR and in Billboard, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, The Los Angeles Times, Uncut, The Fader, The Bluegrass Situation, and Vogue.
The record, which Peck self-produced, draws from country music’s rich traditions, while his unique and haunting baritone weaves through twelve original songs.
As a touring musician who has lived on three continents, the nomadic and solitary lifestyle of the cowboy is one that Peck embraces. ”This town has always bored me / And baby, that’s including you,” he snarls on “Take You Back (The Iron Hoof Cattle Call).”
The songs of Pony, filled with heartaches, hustlers, and highways, are scenes pulled from that restless life.
Steel guitar and soaring falsetto bring an austere desert landscape and lost love to life on album opener ”Dead of Night.” Over gentle banjo, he details tumultuous relationships with a biker, a boxer, and a jailer on “Big Sky.”
Throughout Pony, Peck puts his own spin on Country & Western tropes, singing over cracking whips and even letting out a “yeehaw” on “Turn to Hate.” “Old River” is reminiscent of Marty Robbins’ landmark 1959 LP Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, and “Roses Are Falling” features a recitation—a once-popular part of country music that’s largely fallen out of fashion over the decades—that would make Hank Williams’ alter ego Luke the Drifter proud. On “Queen of the Rodeo,” he tells the story of a drag queen. The album’s lone non-autobiographical song, the foreboding “Kansas (Remembers Me Now),” is a tale of two doomed outlaws on the run.
“True country music is not about instrumentation, it’s not about the color of your skin, and it’s not about your sexual orientation,” says Peck. “It’s about the crossroads of drama, storytelling, and sincerity.”
Peck’s masks and theatric stage presence immediately grab audience attention, similar to the way Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash’s larger-than-life images captured him as a young man. However, it’s his voice and his songwriting, influenced by Parton, Loretta Lynn, Townes Van Zandt, and Gram Parsons, that have captivated a fan base as extensive and diverse as his musical tastes.
Citing artists from Ernest Tubb (the first country artist to use an electric guitar at the Grand Ole Opry) to Kacey Musgraves, Peck says, ”Every decade or so, there comes a new batch of artists that shake up the question of ‘what is country?’
“I’m in the middle of that more often than not these days. I kind of like it, because I think I’m in good company.”
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