Noel is the son of legendary Studio One/Treasure Isle recording artist Alton Ellis, and this self-titled debut was recorded in Toronto in 1979 by studio wizard Jerry Brown for the pioneering Summer Records – often cited as Canada’s answer to Lee Perry’s Black Ark Studios. This latest platter serves as the third release in the Jamaica to Toronto seven album series; following Wayne McGhie & The Sounds Of Joy(1970), and the recently released deluxe anthology Jamaica to Toronto: Soul Funk & Reggae 1967-74.
Noel Ellis features six dub-loved, heavy yet ethereal tracks, with contributions from OG reggae maestros Jackie Mittoo, Willi Williams, and Johnny Osbourne. The eponymous classic lost full-length includes the hugely influential Rocking Universally, whose rhythmic influence was Willi Williams’ “Armagideon Time” (covered by The Clash). The poignantly autobiographical “Memories” (about Noel’s upbringing in Jamaica) is a highpoint as well. “Stop Your Fighting” was a universal anti-materialism/war plea that we should still heed today, while “Marcus Garvey” was delivered in Noel’s playful style, despite a solemn rallying cry of “Africa it must be free.”
Noel Ellis evoked a transcendent majesty, and the album’s economical performances were a blessing compared to certain overproduced recordings of the era. Tasteful keys, varied percussion, essential echo, conquering dub changeovers, and Noel’s impeccable mic control gave an otherworldly twist to Summer’s remarkable drum and bass sound. It was an end-to-end burner for midnight tokers and cool rulers alike.
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