So-called “white reggae” has a spotty track record: some artists like the Clash and Blondie dabbled and produced a few successful tracks, others dove in headfirst to make a lifelong career of it like UB40, and still others brought music to new heights of horrible with it, like Snow’s 1993 hit “The Informer”. These days, it’s all about Matisyahu, another non-island native who has carved out a path as the latest white ambassador of reggae. Born-and-bred L.A. artist Elan steps into the ring now from an unprecedented position of credibility, with the achievement of acting as front man to the legendary Wailers for three and a half years (1997-99) already under his belt. After he enlisted Wailers’ guitarist Al Anderson for his demo, Anderson was so impressed by Elan that he reciprocated by recruiting the singer for the gig of a lifetime. Adding to the authenticity of his debut album is the roster of Jamaican music royalty that he’s got backing him up, including prolific producers Sly and Robbie, up-and-coming Jamaican star Assassin, and established dancehall great Cutty Ranks.
Elan touches on all three major subject matters of reggae on his album, Together As One: politics, spirituality, and sexuality. His admiration of Marley is clear, and while at times it feels like Elan’s own voice gets lost in an impression of his idol, the homage paid to the Jamaican legend is the inspiration behind the strong acoustic title track and “I Wanna Yell”, a call to arms much like “Get Up, Stand Up”. Elan’s most recent job has certainly contributed to a host of Marley similarities, and while on tour he was often mistaken for one of Marley’s sons, but it gets easier to see beyond those comparisons the further you get into this record when the extensive ground it covers becomes more apparent. Roots, reggae, drum ‘n’ bass, dancehall, even new wave are all among the sounds and influences brought into the album.
Executive producer Tony Kanal brings his No Doubt bandmate Gwen Stefani in to duet on “Allnighter” and the result is a sort of reggae-new wave mix that’s a great example of the spirit of fusion found throughout the record. This sort of expansive soundscape is no doubt a result of the extremely talented bunch that were brought in behind the boards here: Sly and Robbie, Tony Kelly, Lenky Marsden, and Tony Kanal all have producer credits throughout the album. By far the most notable tracks on the record are those Jamaican-produced collaborations. Elan’s first single, “Girl”, pairs the artist with the rising Jamaican DJ and MC, Assassin, and was produced by Steven “Lenky” Marsden (the creator behind the Diwali beat phenomenon that reigns as one of the most popular dancehall rhythms today); “You Don’t Come Around No More”, produced by legendary duo Sly and Robbie, is a playful tune featuring old-school Jamaican musician Cutty Ranks.
Clearly, much thought went into securing all the right pieces for this debut album: the players, producers, the music, all to establish that elusive “authenticity”. Still, all the right pieces don’t always necessarily come together to form the right picture, and while no one can argue against the talent on this record, the album lacks an overall sense of the genuine emotion and raw expression that is at the very essence of reggae and Jamaican music. Which, perhaps, could be behind the fact that very few people have actually heard anything about this album. Blame it on the fact that Elan grew up in L.A., that Together as One had to share the label’s release roster with the mega-marketed Busta Rhymes album or, hopefully, consider that this is still only Elan’s first step out of the shadows of Bob Marley to figure out how his own unique message should be delivered.