Orville Peck is the gay cowboy hero we need in music today
Country music is starting to look a little queer these days — and it’s about time. Kacey Musgraves, ever the outstanding ally, has gone mainstream with her glittery, rainbow-infused message of equality. Shane McAnally, an openly gay man, is one of the hottest songwriters in Nashville right now (and a fledgling TV star, thanks to NBC’s “Songland” reality competition).
Enter Orville Peck: the unlikeliest of gay cowboy heroes. Obscured behind a beaded mask and sounding like Johnny Cash had a queer lovechild with Roy Orbison, Peck is crafting some of the most dizzying, delirious and deliciously retrograde country music out there. Here we have love and loss in a good old-fashioned country style, but filtered through a queer lense.
On an album full of gems, “Kansas (Remembers Me Now)” stands out for the way it sounds like it’s being played on an ancient jukebox a hundred feet away, across an empty dancefloor in a dark dive bar. It’s incredible, and it’s moving. It’s evocative of a specific time and place in our lives where heartbreak still aches strong and loneliness is both unavoidable and darkly comforting. Still, despite its obvious influences from the past, Peck’s material still feels fresh, due in part to the various ways in which Peck, by simply existing in the genre, flies in the face of convention.
Lucky for us, he’s more than just neo-noir country atmosphere and mystery (looking at you, Lana del Rey); tracks like “Dead of Night” and “Hope to Die” showcase his powerhouse vocals, while the haunting interlude “Old River” echoes with loss. Then there’s “Buffalo Run,” which infuses the middle of the album with a dangerous electricity.
Representation is important, and Orville Peck is an exciting moment for anyone who grew up in a rural small town or felt stuck on the periphery of the heteronormative world of country music. That lonely, isolating experience is reflected here in the melancholy lyrics and frequently somber tones. It also speaks to anyone who might not identify with the glam-heavy, disco-dance we tend to expect from high-profile out-and-proud gay musicians.
It’s dirty, it’s dark, and it comes closer to real life for an underserved portion of the LGBTQIA community. Welcome to the table, Orville.
Orville Peck’s debut album, Pony, is out now.