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Artist: Noel Ellis

Album: Noel Ellis

Label: Light in the Attic

Review date: Oct. 19, 2006

How did the son of a rocksteady sensation end up in Toronto, Canada? It turns out that many Jamaicans immigrated to Canada in search of steady work in the late '60s and Alton Ellis thought he could make a living entertaining them. He was wrong and eventually moved to England, but not before he’d plucked his firstborn son out of the ghetto and situated him with relatives. Despite his pop’s absence, Noel Ellis gravitated to reggae and cobbled this record under the supervision of Jerry Brown, who ran a struggling label called Summer. (What, did you expect homesick Jamaicans stranded on the shores of Lake Erie to call their imprint Winter?)

Noel Ellis was recorded over a period of several years in the early '80s, a changing time in reggae that probably contributed to the album's discontinuous flow. Ellis and Brown tried a different style on each track. “To Hail Salassie” is spooky and intriguingly dub-wise, with hand drums, guitar notes and Ellis’s echo-scorched voice flung about the mix. “Stop Your Fighting” is starker and more earnest, the dub treatments withheld until Ellis had put his point across. For “Rocking Universally,” the singer pulls up roots and heads for the dancehall. Voiced over Willi Williams’ rollicking rhythm (which old punks might recognized as “Armagideon Time”), Ellis goes delightfully bonkers, bouncing varispeed syllables off the tinkertoy synth licks like well-aimed superballs.

Then his good judgment deserts him; “Marcus Garvey” – every bit as by-the-numbers as its name might make you fear – and “Dance With Me” lacks the urgency necessary to put its lyrical come-ons over the top. But the closer redeems an otherwise arid side two. “Memories” exchanges received rasta-isms for something much more personal. It’s a deeply felt articulation of an exile’s sorrow, expressed over a slow-burn groove that lingers like the singer’s longing.

By Bill Meyer

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