Orville Peck: Bronco (Columbia/digital outlets)

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Orville Peck: Bronco (Columbia/digital outlets)

With a desperate baritone sometimes akin to a young Johnny Cash coupled with Chris Isaak's moulded falsetto -- and his face shrouded in a veil like a concubine in a harem -- the stetson-wearing Orville Peck was always going to attract attention: A masked singer before The Masked Singer.

Add melodrama – think Bruce Springsteen's album Western Stars for Kalahari Down and Let Me Drown on this, Peck's second album – and the man calling himself Orville covers broad, commercially familiar country music.

He's also gay, although most wouldn't discern that from songs which don't announce it.

Often Peck – who may be Johannesburg-born Daniel Pitout living in Canada – defaults to easy country tropes, as on Outta Time which name-checks the PCH (Pacific Coastal Highway), Denver, old blue jeans, Reno and -- inevitably – Elvis.

And, across individually enjoyable songs, he constantly plays the outsider/hurt- by-love persona: “Always said I should work on my escape” on the ballad The Curse of the Blackened Eye; he's abronco runnin' wild on the title track; on Hexie Mountains he's movin' on again; on Let 'em Drown this town ain't big enough for both of them now . . .

But C'mon Baby, Cry is straight-ahead radio pop with a frisson of Roy Orbison and Jimmy Webb-era Glen Campbell, Iris Rose a fine ballad with trumpet and banjo, and the taut Any Turn (the gay signal song) is another of the Dylan Subterranean Homesick Blues trickle-down running from Elvis Costello's Pump It Up through Steve Earle's Calico County to Tami Neilson's Big Boss Mama.

Despite his cloak of mystery and releasing 2019 debut album Pony on Sub Pop (once home to Nirvana, now full of credible and diverse singer-songwriters) which might have endeared him to an alternative audience, Peck is actually a mainstream country singer. He’s now on major label Columbia and his 2020 EP Show Pony included a duet with Shania Twain.

Peck is a “hat act”, albeit one behind a veil.

Bronco is smart and pleasurable country-rock – elevated by the arrangements and Duncan Jay Hennings' guitar work – but toward the closing overs of the expanded 15-song digital edition, as interesting as Orville is, you've already heard everything he's gonna tell you.

Doubtless impressively polished live.

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You can hear this album on Spotify hereOrville Peck plays Auckland's Powerstation, July 17.

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