Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Elf - 1972 - Elf


01. Hoochie Koochie Lady 5:32
02. First Avenue 4:22
03. Never More 3:50
04. I'm Coming Back For You 3:27
05. Sit Down Honey (Everything Will Be Alright) 3:48
06. Dixie Lee Junction 5:08
07. Love Me Like A Woman 3:46
08. Gambler, Gambler 4:28

Bass, Vocals – Ronald Padavona
Drums – Gary Driscoll
Guitar – David Feinstein
Piano – Mickey Lee Soule

Producer – Ian Paice, Roger Glover

New Hampshire-born Ronald James Padavona is better known to the general rock and metal community as Ronnie James Dio, the ‘voice of metal’ if you will. Ronnie’s professional music career was illustrious and prolific, with the man featuring on countless albums as part of various bands or as a special guest. His distinctive vocal style has proven influential and hugely popular. The Electric Elves was Ronnie’s first major project to gain him some recognition. They shortened their name to The Elves before finally becoming simply Elf in time for their 1972 eponymous debut album. Ronnie was about to get his big break and it was to be the beginning of another rock and metal legend…

Elf could not have come about at a more perfect time. The 60’s were over. Hippy culture had become almost non-existent in a very short period of time. As is often the case, a shift in focus of popular music coincides with changes in popular culture. Jimi Hendrix had proven at Woodstock that hard rock was the natural successor of its psychedelic parent. Bluesy riffs and licks over some simple boogie grooves followed by a killer solo or two became the name of the game. Even psychedelic giants The Doors took note of this shift and went in a more bluesy direction with their music before the untimely death of their charismatic, enigmatic frontman Jim Morrison. The Alice Cooper band discarded their initial eclectic, trippy sound to great success, both critically and commercially. Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith; all but a few of the many legendary groups to rise to prominence. It was an exciting time for rock music all right.

Elf was just as groundbreaking an album as any other to be released during this time. Produced by Roger Glover and Ian Paice of Deep Purple fame, it is perhaps no surprise that comparisons can be so easily drawn between this record and, say, Deep Purple In Rock. The band proves from the get go that they are no peace and love- preaching, flower power- mongering group, kicking off the album with an infectiously groovy, hard-rocking number in the form of Hoochie-Coochie Lady. In a sense, the entire album can be summed up in this one song. It sets the mood for the rest of the record and has a bit of everything that you can expect to hear for the next half an hour or so- a groovy bassline, tight drumwork, soulful honky-tonk piano, some killer guitar and of course Ronnie’s charismatic vocals, a melting pot of blues, jazz and southern rock. The song brings to mind a sleazy smoke-filled club with the band playing for the down-on-their-luck barflies and this has as much to do with the lyrics as well as the music, in which the speaker describes the perfect woman that all the other deadbeats could merely dream about.

Critics of Ronnie’s somewhat seemingly small vocal range will be quickly silenced by his talented display of his chops in First Avenue, when he goes from a G2 to a falsetto A5 in each line of the verse. To those uninitiated in musical theory, that’s one hell of a leap in terms of notes. But it is not just his range that makes Ronnie a sweet vocalist, it is his charisma and ability to adapt to different styles that makes him stand out. Songs like I’m Coming Home and Gambler, Gambler are the real rockers that one would expect of Ronnie, where he belts out the lines like a pro. However, other tracks like Never More, a beautiful and haunting song about regret for lost love and the more upbeat Dixie Lee Junction are pure crooning numbers.

Of course, as the vocalist and frontman, Ronnie is bound to be the centre of attention, but it would be a terrible fallacy to ignore the talents of the other band members. Driscoll proves his time keeping abilities with some tight but expert beats and decent fills, even getting a few brief solo runs in First Avenue and Gambler, Gambler. Proficient in a number of instruments, Ronnie also mans the bass guitar and gives the songs that boogie and push that makes them as bouncy and infectious as can be. Feinstein proves himself a talented guitarist, firing off those licks and solos in a superb fashion, one need only hear his jazzy rhythm keeping in the verses of Sit Down Honey and the pyrotechnic breaks in Hoochie-Coochie Lady and Love Me Like a Woman to see that he stood alongside the likes of Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore when it came to axework. But perhaps most notably of all, Soule’s piano work is outstanding. His haunting intro to Never More is but one of many moments of brilliance when it comes to the keys on this album, with even a lead break here and there.

Elf was Ronnie’s first big break, but it didn’t make a huge impact in terms of sales. It is difficult to see why not, being quite relevant to the times and indicative of the direction that popular rock music would take for the next decade. However, its raw rocking sound would prove hugely influential and it is certainly no surprise that this band caught the attentions of guitar legend Ritchie Blackmore when he had begun to become disillusioned with his own band, Deep Purple. So not so humble beginnings for a metal legend then, it would seem. But a beginning it was nonetheless, and Elf were encouraged enough to continue rocking for another two albums as a band before a change was in order. Though it hasdated a fair bit, as a debut, Elf is an accessible but interesting record, more than just three-chord boogies but offering the listener something different than what they may expect, especially with Ronnie in mind. Probably only really for die hard fans of Dio and classic rock, but as it stands, Elf’s eponymous debut is a decent slab of rock and metal history that is well worth checking out.

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