Orville Peck was one of the most buzzed about indie artists in 2019, as his debut album Pony made several best album lists. And like many country-influenced artists who get buzz from the indie scene, I would often hear the phrase around him, “I don’t usually like country, but I like this.” I gave it a listen of course and I came away not really understanding the buzz. While his voice is immediately intriguing, something as a mix between Roy Orbison and Marty Robbins, I found the songwriting to be lacking for the most part. I thought many of the songs relied too heavily on the aesthetics presented and quite frankly expected to hear more country in the sound. While the country influence is there without question, it’s very much not an album I would personally call country.
So with these two criticisms in mind, I gave Peck’s new EP Show Pony a spin. And he actually resolves both of my biggest issues from Pony. This EP is undoubtedly more country and not just because of the superstar collaboration. His duet with Shania Twain on “Legends Never Die” is easily the star moment on the album, followed by (both on the album and in terms of having a moment) his great cover of Bobbie Gentry’s “Fancy.”
I’m surprised Peck and Twain go so well together, as Peck’s bellowing voice and Twain’s polished pop country vocals on paper don’t seem like a great fit. But these two clearly enjoyed working with each other and this fun chemistry really shines through in the song. Peck was also quite brave to pick “Fancy” to cover, as not only is the original by Gentry great, but it’s most famous rendition by Reba is considered amongst the best songs of 90s country. Yet he knocks it out of the park with his more dark and dramatic interpretation. Also if you’re reading this country awards shows, if you’re looking for a cool collaboration performance, it would be great to see Peck and Reba perform this together.
The western-flavored “Summertime” is an enjoyably simmering ballad about lost love snd yearning for it again. Peck really shows off the deepness of his vocals on this track and I think that’s when he shines the best. His voice is better suited for more cinematic songs rather than more subdued tracks like “Kids” and many of the songs on his debut album. This is further proven with “No Glory in the West” and “Drive Me, Crazy.” In each song his vocal performance gives gravitas to the scenes being framed, the old west and driving trucks on the highway respectively. I also enjoy how the latter can double as a tale of the loneliness of the highway and as a love ballad.
While Orville Peck’s style is certainly nothing new in country music, I appreciate that he’s reviving it. With Show Pony he also proves to some critics that he’s more than a dress-up gimmick and that he truly wants to carve his own space in country music. There’s certainly more room for sound he brings, as very few in the genre occupy it at the moment. I hope Peck continues to move in the direction he’s shown with Show Pony, as it suits him quite well.