Elf was a band that Dio was in early in his career; before his solo band, before Black Sabbath and even before Rainbow, although the early line-up of Rainbow was made up primarily of members from Elf. Ronnie James Dio The Elf Years is a compilation album released in the early nineties that features the second and third studio albums by Elf together on one disc. The albums in question are 1974’s Carolina Country Ball and 1975’s Trying To Burn The Sun.
There are a few flaws with the package that a lot of people can sometimes have a problem with; the artwork doesn’t fully replicate either album’s artwork, there is a slight audio flaw on one of the tracks and the mastering isn’t especially good. For a lot of people this will only be a set of minor inconveniences, but if you are usually upset strongly by similar circumstances then it may be worth avoiding this set.
As for the albums themselves, the quality is relatively strong although arguably not on the same level as any of the bands for which Dio would later become famous.
Musically the albums are driven primarily by piano and vocals, with guitar taking something of a back seat for the most part. There is a very clear influence of blues, country and 1950s Rock n Roll on display and it would not be unreasonable to call them more indebted to Honkey Tonk than Hard Rock.
If you can imagine the more boogie orientated tracks by bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Foghat, such as ‘I Know A Little’ and ‘Trouble Trouble’ respectively, mixed with the more 1950s influenced moments by Deep Purple and Queen like ‘Freedom’ and ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ respectively, then you can get some idea of the material on offer here.
Even if you prefer a much heavier style of music than is available here, Ronnie James Dio’s incredible voice is still there to keep your interest, although he hasn’t developed some of his signature techniques yet which makes for interesting listening. You can hear the potential for what he would do in his solo career but with the benefit of hindsight you can pick up some of the same influences that Ian Gillan and Freddie Mercury had in Dio’s performance.
If you go in more for the less-heavy moments, or just want an interesting record of Dio’s voice before he had finished creating his own delivery style then Carolina Country Ball will be the more interesting of the two records on the set, and if you want something harder and more similar to Rainbow’s debut album (albeit mixed with the style Queen’s first three albums) then Trying To Burn The Sun will likely be where you get your money’s worth here.
In all honesty it isn’t an absolutely essential record by any means, but it is a welcome addition to anyone’s collection that will bring at least one or two loveable tracks into your longer-term rotation and is worth checking out to satisfy your curiosity.