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Elf - 'Elf' http://www.rocktopia.co.uk/media/reviews/photos/thumbnail/200x200s/59/f8/db/Elf-Elf-58-1446928118.jpg Hot

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Elf were a hugely overlooked act and to hear them at their best, this is the album you need.

A band far better known for what its members would go on to achieve than its own endeavours, Elf were the first Hard Rock home of Ronald Padavona... or Ronnie James Dio as we would come to know and love him. 'Elf' was the outfit's first album and with the production duo of Roger Glover and Ian Paice (Deep Purple) at the helm, great things were expected.

Having morphed from The Electric Elves, into The Elves and then the singular Elf, the band had already forged ahead through tragedy, their original guitarist Nick Pantas dying in a car accident that would find Dio receiving one hundred stitches and keyboardist Doug Thaler badly injured. Shocked but determined to continue, Thaler moved to guitar, bringing Mickey Lee Soule in on keyboards, with drummer Gary Driscoll and guitarist David "Rock" Feinstein completing the line-up. However by the time this debut was recorded in Atlanta, Elf had slimmed to a four-piece (Dio handling bass duties), with Thaler heading to pastures new.

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Recording was swift, Dio nailing nearly all of his vocals on the first take, the rest of the album completed in just over a week. The results made for a surprisingly accomplished record; keyboards as prominent as Feinstein's guitar and Dio's majestic voice. Soule was a keyboard player with the undoubted ability to Honk your Tonk and it is this playful piano flavour which infuses much of the album, and differentiates it from the many Hard Rock outfits that were beginning to burst through in 1972. However whether the almost Meat Loaf-like 'I'm Coming Back For You', Rocked up Ragtime of 'First Avenue' or swaggering Bar Room romp of 'Love Me Like A Woman', it's no surprise that it's Dio's voice which makes you sit up take notice. However it's the slow and beautiful 'Dixie Lee Junction' where the singer and his band mates really make a lasting mark.

Two less convincing albums would follow, before Dio, Driscoll, Soule and bassist Craig Gruber would join Richie Blackmore in the first incarnation of the mighty Rainbow, while Feinstein enjoyed success with his underrated band, The Rods. In the excellent liner notes, featuring contributions from Feinstein, Soule, Glover, Paice and studio engineer Rodney Mills, Glover states "I still can't understand why it [this album] wasn't a huge hit". The chance to re-appraise 'Elf' over forty years later comes to the same conclusion, however considering what might not have happened had this album received the success it deserved; maybe we should be grateful. Hardly as vital as his work with Rainbow, Black Sabbath, or indeed Dio, Elf were still a hugely overlooked act and to hear them at their best, this is the album you need.

Steven Reid

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