There is no anonymity like conspicuous anonymity, and the latest masked man to gain our attention is Orville Peck, a curious country music maverick to say the least. He cloaks his eyes Lone Ranger-like and covers the rest of his face in long, leather tassels. On his debut album Pony, the Canadian mystery man croons high and low about old rivers, big skies and a queen of the rodeo. The style is haunting, cinematic, with no skimp on the reverb and tremolo – Yee-Haw New Romantic, to coin a genre. Imagine Roy Orbison having a David Lynch dream or an operatic peyote meltdown.
Because Peck has described his Pony project as his most personal ever – we’re still waiting for a musician to release an album and say it’s their “least personal yet" – one might wonder why he disguises himself. But we shouldn’t confuse disguise with deceit. “I believe in my mask, the man I made up is me,” Sam Shepard wrote, in his musical play The Tooth of Crime. “I believe in my dance and my destiny.”
Pony was released earlier this year on Sub Pop label in the United States and on Toronto’s Royal Mountain Records in Canada. A pair of sold-out shows in August at the legendary Troubadour club in Los Angeles attest to the interest in an artist who bends country music boundaries and whose lyrics challenge cliché cowboy masculinity.
Pony’s lead track is Dead of Night, about a pair of gay hustlers in the Nevada desert. “See the boys as they walk on by, it’s enough to make a young man … ” On the gently plucked Big Sky, Orville reminisces about past lovers that include a biker and an abusive prizefighter: “Fell in love with a boxer, stayed awake all year / Heartbreak is a warm sensation, when the only feeling that you know is fear.”
On the uptempo whistle and twang of Take You Back (The Iron Hoof Cattle Call), Peck is the disillusioned rambler. There’s something nomadic, lonesome and heartbreaking to the record as a whole. As for the costume, it is theatre. Peck isn’t hiding beyond a persona, he’s putting himself out there more naked than most. Who is that masked man? Just listen to him. He’s not hiding a thing.
Orville Peck plays the Calgary Stampede, July 5; Hillside Festival, Guelph, Ont., July 14; River and Sky, Sudbury, Ont., July 18; Crystal Lake, West Grey, Ont., July 27; Capital Ballroom, Victoria, Aug. 26; Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, Aug. 27.
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