Rockabilly and similarly stripped-down genres of music are often at their best when they aren’t weighed down with a lot of extra embellishments, and it’s easy to agree with as much when listening to the new single “The Ballad of Elvis Presley” from Josie Cotton and Kevin Preston this summer. Rather than following the trend of blending elements from across the pop spectrum into a rockabilly-influenced framework, Cotton and Preston are giving us a straight-shooting performance in this track, aesthetically speaking, and lending a bit of modern credibility to what has been decried by some critics as puritanical songcraft.
There’s quite a rustic feel to this mix, but I don’t think the players were intentionally trying to implement an outdated filtration to create some sense of bohemian retrospection with “The Ballad of Elvis Presley.” That kind of trite hipster conceptualism hasn’t been popular for the better part of the last five years on the mainstream level, and I don’t hear Cotton and Preston employing it here so much as they’re rejecting a distinctly postmodern look in favor of something just a bit more classical. It takes skill to pull this off, but they’ve got plenty of it in this song.
The harmonies in this track live up to the name referenced in its title, and I particularly like the seamless way they’ve been integrated with the percussive backend of the mix as well. The beat and the melodic instrumentation are never split into separate corners in “The Ballad of Elvis Presley;” on the contrary, this is a stacked single that feels entirely crafted to immerse us in its casual groove. Every part of the song is leaning into the physicality, which is different than being built on the back of indulgence exclusively (which has been the case with a lot of similar content out this year).
This beat is undeniably a solid element of the foundation in “The Ballad of Elvis Presley,” but I do think Cotton and Preston could have pushed it just a bit more than they did in the final product. There’s nothing putting pressure on these string parts, and in a live performance, I can imagine the tension they’d produce would be enough to make the vocal harmonies at the forefront of this single even more stinging in tone. I understand the desire to avoid over-exploiting a theme, but I do think these players would benefit from going a little deeper with their ambitions in the future.
Although it isn’t an homage to the king of rock n’ roll, as a lot of passive pop fans might expect it to be, “The Ballad of Elvis Presley” is a prime exhibition of the talents Josie Cotton and Kevin Preston have when they’re sharing the studio together, and I hope to hear them collaborate on a piece of this caliber again in the near future. Their chemistry is magnetizing, and it’s even emphasized even further when put before as simple a backdrop as the one in this song.
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