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Orville Peck - Bronco (Album Review)

Wednesday, 13 April 2022 Written by Laura Johnson

Orville Peck wrote ‘Bronco’ by holing up in his home studio for eight hours a day after his spring 2020 tour was cancelled due to COVID-19. True to its namesake, the record finds the masked cowboy navigating a depressive period with the freedom and spirit of someone who is determined to outlast it.

Whereas his 2019 debut LP, ‘Pony’, found Peck a little tentative, ‘Bronco’ draws from punk, bluegrass, pop and rock influences in an uninhibited approach to Peck’s existing style. It’s also no surprise that he carefully curated the tracklist over four months as the record is a perfectly planned wild ride through his psyche.

From the get go, you find yourself immersed in his western world, his rich baritone vocals, and on occasion heartfelt falsetto, commanding your attention and dripping with emotion.

Peck could read your gas bill and you’d be enthralled, but fortunately he’s also able to package poignant tales into thoughtfully composed country tracks with a flair for the dramatic.

“I sat around last year wishing so many times that I would die,” he confesses on The Curse Of The Blackened Eye, while the opener C’Mon Baby, Cry uses a country ballad to tackle toxic masculinity—a fresh approach to a well-worn subject. 

That’s not to say the record is without comic relief, as tongue-in-cheek lines are littered throughout. “I meet a girl who's tryna shoot the breeze, she tells me she don't like Elvis, I say, I want a little less conversation, please,” Peck sings on Outta Time. On City Of Gold he offers, “All that I want is a kind heart to haunt, my shrink says it ain’t too much to ask.”

But even those songs providing respite are Trojan-horsing more melancholia into the whole. Any Turn is the biggest culprit, sounding like it could soundtrack a honky-tonk, when in fact it’s a breakneck rundown of the frantic nature of life on the road.

An honourable mention must go to Let Me Drown, though, for simultaneously having painful lyrics but being an absolute musical pleasure. “Been finding it hard to be kind, since I’ve been lost out there, losing my mind,” Peck sings while accompanied by piano and strings. It’s a gut punch of a track that will stay with you long after its three and half minutes are up.

‘Bronco’ closes with All I Can Say, a duet that Peck and Bria Salmena co-wrote with Duncan Hay Jennings and an apt sign-off that allows him to literally sing “goodbye” to his captive audience. It’s another testament to his ability to thoughtfully map out his own trauma. Despair never sounded so good. 

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