Elf's debut album, I thought it prudent to work on the second disc in their discography; Carolina Country Ball. This is the album where the group begins to pick up steam, having toured with Deep Purple for over a year, working on their composition and sound. It begins a direction more into the rock aspect of blues rock, joining in with the rock 'n roll era, and is a real step up in the story-telling aspects.
First thing, the name; you see, while the album if officially titled Carolina Country Ball, it was released in parts of the world (most notably the USA and Japan) as L.A. 59. No reason for this switch has ever been offered, and while it really doesn't change anything - there aren't two different track lists out there - it does strike me as a bit odd. Personally I much more enjoy the song "Carolina Country Ball" over "L.A. 59," so I prefer the original title, and will continue to address it as such.
On to the songs; "Carolina Country Ball" is really the best way to open this album, and is my favorite Elf song out there. It relies heavily on Ronnie James Dio's voice with a piano backing to tell its tale. Strong in the narrative, it's about the act being surprised, humbled, and excited to be playing the show at the "Carolina Country Ball." The music is simple as are the lyrics, but the message is great. My favorite line is the opening one as it sums up the song perfectly: "Well just imagine my surprise to be there, If you touched me with a feather I'd fall. I guess that you could say we finally made it, We played the Carolina County Ball."
"Ain't It All Amusing" is another one of my favorites from the album, once again relying on the magic of Dio's voice. This one is a far cry in message from "Carolina Country Ball," less of a narrative, more as an underlying theme, the song is about the dislike for a woman. Whether it's all women or just one, I'm not really sure, but the message could not be clearer, as referenced by this line: "Hey, Jack and Jill went up the hill, To fetch a pail of water, Jill fell down and broke her crown, And that's the way it oughta....." I laugh every time.
Besides these two great tracks, others of mention include "L.A. 59," "Happy" (ironically a very dreary song), "Annie New Orleans," and "Rainbow." Every time I listen to "Rainbow" I can't help but wonder if this song was the inspiration for the naming of the band Rainbow. I only wonder this because all of the members of Elf, besides Steve Edwards on guitar, would later form the first incarnation of Rainbow, after Ritchie Blackmore left Deep Purple. Just a thought.
However you slice it, Carolina Country Ball is a great album. It takes the best parts of Elf's debut and amps them up, adding stories and different styles to make a seemingly-new band. There is rock n' roll, blues, piano music, and big band themes all mixed up and shaken out. This was the high point of their career and their best album because of it. Certain aspects of their follow-up, Trying To Burn The Sun, continue on the upward path of their music, but this album will always be number one to me.