Carolina County Ball
"Although they were the band that first gave us Ronnie James Dio and which quickly morphed into the first incarnation of Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, Elf remain little more than a footnote in the history of rock. Having come to the notice of Roger Glover and Ian Paice, the Deep Purple pair decided to produce the band's raucous, but controlled self titled debut, before Elf hit the road supporting their producers' main concern. A hard hitting affair that slapped an American take on the rock n' roll sound many were making waves with on the other side of the pond, it remains a mystery (especially to Glover, who often says so) as to why Elf never gained the attention their music deserved. Two years on from that first album, Glover was again championing the band from behind the mixing desk, his first tenure with Purple having come to an end. Elf by this time had been through a host of line-up reshuffles, the five-some who recorded what became Carolina County Ball (although it was called L.A. '59 in the US) comprising of Ronnie James Dio, keyboard player Micky Lee Soule, drummer Gary Driscoll and newcomers Craig Gruber (taking over bass duties from Dio, who wanted to concentrate on singing) and Steve Edwards, on guitar. The latter replaced Dio's cousin Dave 'Rock' Feinstein who would go on to form The Rods and who finally, in the interesting liner notes, clarifies his departure from Elf – other contributions to the Malcolm Dome penned booklet coming from Glover, Soule and photographer Fin Costello.
Unlike the debut (which HNE/Cherry Red reissued a while back, the label using their newly acquired Purple imprint for the latest Elf reappraisals) where the whole band got involved in song writing, it was only Dio and Soule who put the songs together for CCB, the intention being to broaden the band's sound. In fairness the pair achieve just that, but in truth the results are a dilution of the straight up rock with a side of honky-tonk that made the Elf album so good. However there's still much to recommend here, Dio, as you'd expect, peerless throughout as he turned his hand to the percussion heavy rock n' rhythm of "Ain't It All Amusing", the slow and not particularly convincing schmooze of "Happy" and the boogie of "Annie New Orleans". What also comes through is that alongside Dio, the driving force in these cuts was Soule, piano and keys much more important here than before, with Edwards' guitar often coming out second best. Something that can also be said for the heart tugging "Rocking Chair Rock n' Roll Blues" and ironically titled, given what this band would go on to become, "Rainbow".
Edwards does step forward a little more on the still heavily piano laced "Do The Same", however the balance is best struck on the opening pair, which depending on where you live, could both be seen as the album's title track, "Carolina County Ball" and "L.A. '59". The former a rabble rouser infused by brass and female backing singers, the latter a groove laden riff off between piano and guitar. Which wins? Well, neither of course, Dio's vocals taking the prize.
A little uneven in places, Carolina County Ball is still an interesting album that not only gives an insight into the early years of Ronnie James Dio and Rainbow, but which also delivers a good, diverse set of early heavy rock n' roll. There's no doubt it is overshadowed both by what this band had done before and what they'd do post Elf, but Carolina County Ball remains a good listen and this excellently remastered version is the best way to do it." - Sea Of Tranquilty