Noel Ellis, the son of reggae singer Alton Ellis, was born and spent his early childhood in Kingston, Jamaica but spent most of his teen years living with relatives in Toronto, Canada, a cultural shift that affected him significantly, and might account for some of the elegant wistfulness of his sole album. A marvelously realized bit of ex-patriot roots reggae, Noel Ellis was recorded at Jerry Brown's Summer Records facility in Canada in 1979 with a solid group of musicians who included Jackie Mittoo, Willie Williams and Bongo Gene, and it was released in 1983 to very little commercial success. But the album had a coherent and ethereal feel to it, helped by the striking but hardly intrusive extended dub mixes Brown gave each of the six tracks, and it became a cult treasure for reggae enthusiasts. This reissue of Noel Ellis on CD by Seattle's Light In The Attic Records clearly shows what the buzz was about, and the album definitely lives up to its underground reputation. Ellis has a clear, somewhat sad voice that carries an intangible moral center, and he delivers these songs with grace and sureness, while the studio band Brown assembled keeps things suitably sparse and appropriate, and yet there is still an undercurrent of joyful looseness that lets each track breathe naturally. Noel Ellis is very much a roots reggae suite (whether it was intended to be or not, that's how it flows), and it's difficult to pick one track over another, but the closing "Memories," a song written by fellow West Indies ex-patriot Tony Hibbert (who plays bass on the album), is particularly haunting as it details the struggles of cultural displacement in a precious few lines, and the playful "Rocking Universally," a long sought after cut for reggae collectors, is a goofy yet oddly elegant delight. The album itself fell victim to geographical circumstances when it was originally released, since there really wasn't a strong reggae market in North America as yet and Jamaicans have always been notoriously reluctant to embrace reggae recorded away from the island, so a brilliant effort tumbled between the cracks. Thanks to Light In The Attic for giving the world a second chance to discover Noel Ellis.
AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett