The Best Of Ken Boothe (Trojan)
"Ken....Boothe.... UK pop reggae..." sang The Clash on White Man In Hammersmith Palais, somewhat bemoaning the fact, between the lines, that when they wanted to hear some crucial roots reggae they would have to make do with Ken Boothe. Maybe that wasn't quite what they meant anyway (who knows what The Clash often meant...) but Ken Boothe was, although mainly known as a pop reggae act, someone with a few more surprising strings to his bow.
He began in the mid-sixties singing upbeat, "rock steady" numbers like the subsequently much-sampled Moving Away and the raw You Left The Water Running before moving on to some typically early seventies steady skanking on tracks like the catchy, soulful Freedom Street. Moving Away in fact has a sound that belies its 1968 recording date. It has a melodic, solid skank to it and Boothe's voice is at its most expressive, his phrasing, as always, is very pronounced and distinct. He also had a soul quality to his voice too, almost Otis Redding-esque at times.
Then, of course, there was the brief big chart success in 1974-75 with the crossover number one, Everything I Own, a sumptuous cover of the Bread track that brought success for Boothe with more than just reggae fans. The once more soulful Crying Over You was the follow-up, and, while not as big a hit, still charted, getting number 11. Boothe also exploited the easy listening/soul covers thing with Bill Withers' Ain't No Sunshine, Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On and Sam Cooke's You Send Me. All of these are delivered via Boothe's throaty, slightly croaky but always melodious voice and backed by a steady skanking rhythm.
The theme from The Godfather, Speak Softly Love is also given the skanking treatment. Boothe was very much ploughing the same furrow as John Holt with material like this. Yes, it is relatively throwaway, but it is a nostalgic and pleasant listen, very typical of much reggae material in the early seventies - taking classic songs and "reggae-fying" them.
Just if you were thinking that Boothe was either a rock steady or a covers man he shows that he also had a "conscious" Rasta-influenced side to him with a solid, rootsy cover of The Abyssinians' Satta Massagana and a jazzy reggae cover of Syl Johnson's urban funk number, Is It Because I'm Black?
Boothe liked a "message" song, and Can't Fight Me Down, despite its lively beat, expressed an inner strength of character. Live Good has a preachy, religious intent. Again, Boothe is getting a little rootsy, as he also does on the funky You're No Good. Got To Get Away is a six minute-plus bassy dance groove too.
This is a comprehensive collection in the excellent Trojan "best of" series and the sound quality is good, as always. Ken Boothe was certainly an interesting artist and this album is more than just Everything I Own.