Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

Rising country music star Orville Peck will play in Albuquerque on April 21 at Sunshine Theater. Peck comes to Albuquerque after the release of his second studio album Bronco. The mercurial singer has attracted a host of devoted fans from his first two wildly popular EPs, Pony and Show Pony.

Peck has defied the more traditional masculine and Americana undertones of country music by embracing an unabashedly gay and eccentric personality. The most striking physical characteristic is his hidden face. Peck wears an assortment of masks that conceal his true identity. The disguise only elevates his status as a pop culture icon; he refuses to explain the disguise and leaves it to the audience to figure out why he hides. 

Peck’s latest album Bronco is a declaration of the artist’s place in contemporary pop culture. The album dwarfs the ambition and scope of Pony, but continues to build on the sound and themes that first elevated Peck to his place as one of the loudest and most colorful voices in pop culture. The album embraces Peck’s formidable vocals. Bronco will establish Peck as one of the most distinctive voices in country music while also providing an all too rare LGBTQ voice in a traditionally conservative genre. Peck continues to embrace the outlaw country music of the mid-20th century while also incorporating a more rebellious rock and roll sound.

As for the album itself, Bronco is cinematic, from the opening track “Daytona Sand,” where Peck takes us on a same-sex, sun-bleached love journey to the country stronghold of Daytona, Florida. Peck weaves a story and sound more reminiscent of an Americana in transition, similar to the 1970s or the Paris, Texas soundtrack album by Ry Cooder in observation of the ever-changing freedoms of the American interior.

Peck’s articulation of the American West and his sound is best encapsulated in “Hexie Mountains.” Acoustic and soft with tones of melancholy and nostalgia, this track tells the story of a figure forever wandering the vastness of the west. The music video that accompanies the song features Riley Keough, the granddaughter of the King himself, Elvis Presley, as she and Peck wander decaying small towns in the American Southwest. 

The visuals and representation of LGBTQ that Peck proudly displays in his songs and music videos have given country new life as it attempts to navigate another shift in American society. Peck isn’t out to existentially change what country music is but rather rediscovers what the genre is and what it could be.