Cowboy hat

(Trinity Kubassek/pexels)

If you were up late Monday night channel scrolling, you may have stumbled upon a striking performance on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” In matching western outfits, two cowboy-hat-clad Canadian stars—Shania Twain and Orville Peck—performed country music. The two were half-sauntering, half-prancing around a dark, empty Nashville bar while singing their new song “Legends Never Die,” a standout track off Peck’s new EP “Show Pony.” 

The “six-track project” was released last Friday and is a plentiful follow up to Peck’s 2019 debut album, “Pony.” The tracks were originally going to be released on June 12, but Peck decided to delay the release until mid-August so that he could focus on the Black Lives Matter movement, Rolling Stone reported. This decision is not only admirable, but his new music makes it well worth the wait. 

Peck’s voice is almost startling in how deep it is as he begins the opening track, “Summertime.” The song rises to a powerful chorus in which the cowboy crooner sings “You and I / Bide our time / And I / Miss summertime.” It’s the shortest track of the six, and it’s nothing too complex, though it certainly conveys Peck’s distinct sound. His low, powerful, and intense sound is overflowing with longing and suppressed desire, continuing themes from “Pony.”

The second track, “No Glory in the West,” most closely resembles the lonesome cowboy persona Peck has cultivated with several of his previous songs, including “Dead of Night,” “Winds Change,” and “Nothing Fades Like the Light.” With lines like “Coming down the bend /  nowhere left to go, goin’s all we know,” Peck continues the long country music tradition of storytelling. He is able to convey so much emotion in so few words, a heralded ability in the genre. The heartbreak continues on “Drive Me, Crazy,” a song largely set on the highway. With lyrics such as “You shift on the gear / it’s been a long year,” Peck places himself as the most recent installation in the history of country songs about driving. The song is reminiscent of George Strait’s “Amarillo By Morning” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” by Glen Campbell; Peck’s appreciation for classic country remains apparent. 

Peck then slows down a bit with “Kids,” which is grounded in lyrics contemplating intimacy. The song’s most touching line, “You call me up and tell me all your frights,” also alludes to a classic country motif: the phone call. The slow, guitar-guitar centered sound evokes thoughts of intimate settings, perhaps a campfire or a lover’s bed. Peck’s songs of romance are some of his most profound due to his identity as a gay man. His sexuality is the crux of his music, because while Peck resembles classic country greats in style, his vulnerable lyrics reject the hyper masculinity of so many male crooners of the past. With a physique from his past as a ballet dancer but also rarely seen without a cowboy hat, Peck is a fascinating paradox.

“Show Pony” then changes gears a bit for the penultimate track, Peck’s aforementioned duet with pop-country queen Shania Twain: “Legends Never Die.” The song shifts the tone significantly from dark to light, as Twain and Peck triumphantly combine to sing about overcoming hardship. Their voices work superbly together, and it is a great option for those who want to tune out of Peck’s more somber tones.

The EP’s  queerness culminates in the EP’s finale, a cover of the song “Fancy.” Originally written by Bobbie Gentry in 1970, then famously revived by Reba McEntire in 1990, the song tells the story about a poor young woman in New Orleans. Peck sings, “Mama washed and combed and curled my hair and she painted my eyes and lips / Stepped into a satin dancin' dress that had a slit in the side clean up to my hips.” The song builds slowly until the protagonist succeeds in escaping poverty, stating how “I charmed a king, a congressman, and the occasional aristocrat / I got me a Georgia mansion and an elegant New York townhouse flat and I ain't done bad.” 

The song focuses on Peck’s vocals as he sings loud and clear. It is an authoritative, gender-bending ending for the contemporary cowboy, as he takes on the persona of the song’s female protagonist. In “Show Pony,” Peck reminds listeners why they tuned in to his career in the first place—to witness the music of a man who understands his present moment, but also knows his history.