A Quick Trip Out West with Orville Peck
Unlike rock stars, most country artists have great voices. There are outliers whose voices were more unique than great, such as Johnny Cash, but the vast majority of country artists have control, tone, and timbre that rock stars often do not. Orville Peck’s voice stands out even among the country greats. He has a warm baritone with a big range that sounds somewhere between The Beat Farmers’ Country Dock Montana and Chris Isaak with a touch of Waylon Jennings. He also has a wide dramatic range that would be just as viable on Broadway as in Nashville.
It’s hard to pin down his style. His latest album, Bronco: Chapters 1 & 2, is a prime example of how difficult his music is to classify, though “western” seems as close to the right bucket as any. The themes on the album are decidedly western, including the name, with lyrics that are reminiscent the old western traditions. He sings about “trails to follow” and punctuates songs with “yippee yo kay ay”. That’s not the whole story though. Peck’s music has elements of rock, pop, traditional country, Americana, and rockabilly. In the hands of lesser talent, this would be a hot mess. Peck, on the other hand, weaves these styles together into musical story earning Bronco: Chapters 1 & 2 the badge of concept album.
This is an album to listen all the way through, in order. Individual songs only matter in so far as they move the overall narrative forward. Given the name, you can almost imagine this as the soundtrack for a new Western movie, though I don’t see evidence of that anywhere. Instead, it becomes the soundtrack for the western adventure in your mind each time you listen to it.
Orville Peck’s Bronco: Chapters 1 & 2 is great album writing backed by an exceptional voice. You probably won’t hear this on the radio or in a playlist – this isn’t music that lends itself to those expressions – but hopefully will listen to the album over and over again.