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Mr. Soul of Jamaica

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Album Review

Alton Ellis was a star long before rocksteady washed over Jamaica, but it took until that era for his debut album to arrive. 1967's Mr. Soul of Jamaica was his first, followed hot on its heels by Sings Rock and Soul. The latter came courtesy of Coxsone Dodd, it's a fine set, but pales in comparison to the former. Ellis had departed Dodd's Studio One for Duke Reid's Treasure Isle as rocksteady emerged, recording a stream of crucial hit singles for the label. Mr. Soul featured a clutch of them, but oddly not some of the biggest — the genre naming "Rock Steady," the classic "Girl I've Got a Date," the seminal "Cry Tough" were all missing. Presumably, Reid thought they were pointless inclusions, as everyone already had them on 45. What fans did get was a dozen numbers of equal caliber; Ellis didn't release anything less during this period. The sublime "Breaking Up" is a perfect case in point, the singer oozes heartache, while his backing Flames' harmonies are exquisite, and absolutely flawless. But Ellis is fabulous on every song within, even at his most pop-flecked, the sweet "Why Birds Follow Spring" is a good example, he laces a song with emotion. He swaddles "Can't Stop Now" in soul, while his haunting performance on the downbeat "If I Could Rule This World" is unforgettable. Some of the songs here are originals, like the excellent "Chatty Chatty People," the rest covers that Ellis makes his own, notably his phenomenal takes on "You Make Me So Very Happy," "Willow Tree," and "Remember That Sunday." The backings are Ellis' equals, and the reason for Treasure Isle's success. "Birds" is rocksteady perfection, "Sunday" a breezy, bouncy wonder, the brass lights up "Ain't That Loving You," while "All My Tears Come Rolling" is an insistent delight. Every song here has much to recommend it, and all told this compilation was one of the highlights of the era.


Born: 01 September 1938 in Kingston, Jamaica

Genre: Reggae

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

One of the first vocalists to enter the Jamaican music business, Alton Ellis was generally revered as the greatest and most soulful singer the country ever produced -- that is, until Bob Marley came along. Ellis had his first hit during the ska craze, but made his true lasting mark as the definitive solo singer of the rocksteady era. Sweet, smooth, and deeply emotive, Ellis was equally at home on Jamaican originals or reggae-fied covers of American R&B hits. He cut a series of ska singles for Clement...
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Mr. Soul of Jamaica, Alton Ellis
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