Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Elf - Trying to Burn the Sun

6/10

Elf's third and last album doesn't stray too far from the style of their previous two; the boogie-woogie piano is still front and center, although there are a few songs that are a little different ("When She Smiles" has an electric piano, the aforementioned track and "Wonderworld" feature strings, "Shotgun Boogie" is much faster than anything Elf had done before, and "Streetwalker" goes on about twice as long as it has to)
There's not a whole lot to say about Trying to Burn the Sun that you couldn't say about the first two albums, and all of them show why Elf never managed to be successful commercially; while they were competent at their instruments and Dio was a great singer, they just weren't doing much of anything that other bands weren't doing considerably better. The first Rainbow album would feature most of the same personnel, but with the songwriting duties split between Dio and Ritchie Blackmore instead of Dio and Mickey Lee Soule, the quality and distinctiveness of the band's songs skyrocketed. Elf was just too limited to achieve superstardom, and that's why they're forgotten today despite their famous frontman.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Elf - Carolina County Ball

7/10

Carolina County Ball has slightly more variety than Elf's debut, but it still can't quite escape the trap of repetitive piano-based songwriting that doomed that album to mediocrity. There are definitely more songs here that stick out as being different than the others: for example, the title track has a horn section,"Ain't it All Amusing" uses an electric piano and has a somewhat funky feel, "Happy" has multi-layered backing vocals and a more languid pace.
However, I felt that there was just too much sedate material on this album for its own good- while the slower songs are somewhat spread out, songs like "Happy," the first half of "Rocking Chair Rock 'n' Roll Blues," the ridiculously underwritten "Blanche" and "Rainbow" (yes, he was writing about them even at this early date) aren't awful or anything, but I was really hoping for more harder rocking material. This still isn't metal by any stretch of the imagination, and while it isn't terrible at all, I still can't recommend this to Dio fans unless they're aware that it's not even remotely heavy.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Terrible Album Covers: Visions of Atlantis - Eternal Endless Infinity

Even if you ignore the hilariously redundant title, this is still a terrible album cover. If Nightwish released an album of Jimmy Buffett covers, this is what I'd expect it to look like.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Elf - s/t

6/10

The early 1970's, in my opinion, were the golden age of keyboards. Moogs and mellotrons were making their big mainstream splash after some isolated use in songs such as "Strawberry Fields Forever," the Hammond organ and electric piano were popular, and most of the cheesy keyboards that would become popular in the late 70's and 80's hadn't been invented yet.
So why the hell does Elf keyboardist Mickey Lee Soule insist on using the exact same style of honky-tonk piano in every track on this album? At first, I was thinking, "Wow, this is nothing like I expected at all! Dio hasn't quite found his niche as a metal screamer yet, but he's a surprisingly good blues-rock vocalist. And that piano's a nice change of pace from most of the stuff on the first Rainbow album." (I was aware that Soule had performed on that album, which only had one piano-heavy track).
Unfortunately, instead of taking advantage of all the keyboards that were available to him, Soule insisted on playing a plain ol' piano on every track, with very little stylistic variation. As a result, Elf's debut album becomes fairly tedious, despite the otherwise decent songwriting and some decent guitar playing from David Feinstein. (Admittedly, there's one track with some Hammond organ overdubs and another with some synthesizer, but they're used sparingly, with the emphasis still being on the honky-tonk piano.)
Even without the lame piano, I wouldn't recommend this to metal fans, though. This is blues-rock, not metal, and it's not even on the heavier side of the genre. Even the lyrics aren't anything like the Dungeons and Dragons stuff that Dio would later become famous for, instead focusing on Southern-style. This is still worth a look, but be aware of that annoying piano.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Elf - Intro

NOTE: I'm writing this on May 17, the day after Ronnie James Dio passed on. His death isn't the reason I decided to do a page for Elf (I'd been considering doing them since before I heard he was ill), but I wasn't planning on writing my first post-hiatus discography this far in advance.

Although Elf wasn't Ronnie James Dio's first band, it was his first that recorded full-length albums. While one might assume from the band name and Dio's later output that Elf was a fantasy-themed proto-metal band, this just wasn't true- they played Southern-style blues rock, which was certainly a shock for me. Their three albums were fairly good, but there was one near-constant aspect to their songs that I found annoying, which I'll explain in greater detail in my reviews.

PS: Thank God for "special marketing" labels that put this kind of obscure stuff out. These albums would never have stayed in print without them.

Monday, June 21, 2010

NEARfest report

I just returned from NEARfest earlier today, and it was EYE BUGGING GOOD!

As with last year, I only attended the first night because that's when all the stuff I wanted to see was playing. The opener was Riverside, a progressive metal band from Poland. They were pretty good- I had never heard any of their stuff before, but I liked the fact that they relied more on creating atmosphere than Dream Theater wankery.
But the real reason that I came was to see Steve Hackett, formerly of Genesis. I'd heard some of his solo work, and I absolutely loved the albums "Voyage of the Acolyte" and "Spectral Mornings." When I returned to my seat after the intermission, I was dismayed to see that the seat on my right, which had been empty during Riverside's performance, was taken up by the biggest man I had seen at NEARfest (which is no mean feat, mind you- the crowd there is basically the same as your typical comic book or sci-fi convention, but a few decades older). Fortunately, the show was good enough that I almost completely forgot about him.
There was some stuff from Genesis (which was sung by the drummer, who did a pretty good job despite not sounding like Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins), an acoustic interlude, some stuff from the older solo albums (including Spectral Mornings, my personal favorite song of his) and some newer stuff, which I didn't recognize. He's still really, really talented, and though some of his vocals were done through filters, I can forgive that since he's never been much of a singer. Also, for some reason, his bassist was in drag (I'm not sure what the point of that was).
All in all, it was a really good show. Unfortunately, I didn't buy as much from the vendors there as I had hoped because the prices were highway robbery. For example, one vendor was selling the Scorpions debut "Lonesome Crow" for $22, when I can, as of this writing, get a new copy on Amazon.com for $4.82 plus shipping. Still, I can only hope that next year's NEARfest will have something I'm equally eager to see.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Terrible Album Covers: Destruction - Metal Discharge

I really have no idea if this album's title was an intentional yucky pun or just the result of the band members' poor grasp of English. I know that sick jokes aren't unusual in metal or anything, but "Metal Discharge" just sounds like some malady that aging metalheads would get.

Friday, June 18, 2010

I'm back!

My hiatus is over, and I have already reviewed the discography of a well-known frontman's early band. I will also be attending NEARfest tonight, and will be posting a concert review on Monday. Just wanted to let you know...