Having your father rank amongst the most revered JA singers in that islands history of recorded music doesn’t ensure your own musical acuity. But it doesn’t hurt, obviously.
Alton Ellis worked in just about every sub-strain of JA related sounds over his lifetime, spanning the earliest ska, to surprising funk workouts and a flirtation with minimal musical backing. As with a huge number of other Jamaicans, performers or not, Ellis hightailed it to Toronto in order to locate a steady gig. He didn’t find one there, but his son, Noel found his musical voice during the time he spent there.
Another of the Light in the Attic reissues – that label knows no genre boundaries – Noel Ellis’ eponymous disc was recorded over a number of years with the assistance of a few other expats: Willi Williams and Jackie Mittoo, most notably.
It’s worth mentioning Williams’ appearance on the disc if for nothing else than the obvious similarities between “Rocking Universally,” included here and “Armegiddeon Time,” released on Williams’ own album subsequently. Lyrically, the songs aren’t the same, but the backing track and phrasing used by everyone here is eerily similar to Williams’ track.
Pointing out that pilfered track, though, doesn’t go a long way towards describing what’s found here. And in fact, each of the six extended tracks can be split up into one of two camps. “Rocking Universally” and two other offerings arrive sounding solidly rooted in the post-classic era with just enough synthesizer to easily figure the offering for something from the late seventies or early eighties.
The other camp can be easily characterized by its sparse backing, edging towards a dub sound, but not quite. Surely, there was a bit of studio trickery going on – echo and such – but for the most part, the album doesn’t suffer greatly from being produced outside of JA proper and relatively late in the game.
As for Noel’s performance specifically, it’s clear from the opening notes on the disc’s first song that he doesn’t possess the same sort of range his father had. At the same time, though, Noel’s voice is able to maintain the same general tone as Alton’s. It’s not quite sugary sweet, there’s some suffering behind it, but strong and consistent.
Accounting for Noel Ellis becoming a scarce commodity isn’t the easiest thing to do. But seeing as it was a Toronto effort released a bit after Williams’ and Mittoo’s hey day should explain it all.