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Peck’s Second “Bronco” Chapter Takes It at a Trot

By Christopher Treacy

The second chapter of Orville Peck’s forthcoming Bronco moves at a more contemplative pace than its predecessor, but it’s no less engaging. Emotionally, Peck digs deeper while showing us that he can write nuanced tunes that are simultaneously groove-based and rooted in country.

If Chapter 1’s “Daytona Sand” and “Any Turn” came charging in at a breathless gallop, “The Curse of the Blackened Eye” moves at a lazy trot, leaving more time to let complex emotions ripen. Anchored by a repeated, undulating guitar line that establishes a cinematic Western scene, Peck makes the case for a past relationship  cleverly dressed as a haunting. He’s left permanently marked. “It aint the letting go, it’s more about the things that you take with,” he croons, trying to make sense of why he can’t shake the lingering trauma. In the video, The Walking Dead‘s Norman Reedus plays an ex-boyfriend who doubles as The Curse, personified, when dressed as a zombie. The clip helps give discernible shape to an otherwise vague storyline, answering some, but not all, of our questions.

“Kalahari Down” is imbued with memories of a complicated adolescent friendship with romantic overtones that seems to take place in South Africa, where Peck is rumored to have grown up. “I was born in the badlands, Honey / Strange place for a boy to drown,” he sings after a 40 second harmonica palate cleanser. A new level of vulnerability emerges, setting the stage for a balladic crescendo with sweeping strings and soaring multi-tracked vocals that leaves him reduced to a whisper. “Tell my mother I’m nearly done,” he laments at the end, capping off the most powerful of Bronco‘s offerings thus far.

“Trample Out the Days” is less tangible, chronicling a tryst that seems doomed from the start; is he just killing time? A warm, jangly guitar leads the way as Peck belts unabashedly, “Boulevard boy, give me nothing, you’re the one I chose,” But the chorus repeatedly finds him waving goodbye, admitting that, “I spent it all on masquerades.”


A Honky-Tonk of Our Own

“Hexie Mountains,” meanwhile, is vaguely reminiscent of John Denver.  With light banjo punctuations,  Peck uses a California mountain range as a metaphor for wisdom, appropriately set against a majestic, folksy melody.

With half of Bronco now available, we can see how location plays a major role in the new material: a travelogue is taking shape. And while perhaps less immediately gratifying than the four tracks in Chapter 1, released a month back, Chapter 2 benefits from a slower, more powerful reveal; perhaps these are the ones listeners will return to when the more obvious hooks have played themselves out.  

Removed from the noir oddities that previously defined his comfort zone, Peck emerges in his new mainstream-adjacent digs fully intact, with compelling stories to tell. The grace in this transition is largely thanks to producer Jay Joyce, whose prior credits encompass a telling cross-section of artists, sometimes leaning toward commercial country’s center (Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town), sometimes leaning to the left, (Patty Griffin, The Wallflowers, Zac Brown Band), while other times having nothing to do with country at all (FIDLAR, Halestorm, Coheed and Cambria). Turns out he was the perfect shape-shifter for the job.

Christopher Treacy has been writing about music and the music industry for 20 years. He’s contributed to The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, and Berklee College of Music’s quarterly journal, as well as myriad LGBTQ+ outlets including the Edge Media Network, Between the Lines/Pride Source, Bay Windows and In Newsweekly. He lives in Buffalo, NY.