Photo by Bernard Benant
On his first internationally-released album in over two decades, Jamaican soul man Ken Boothe digs deep into his venerable catalog of hits. The album, titled Inna De Yard and recorded at the open-air studio by the same name in Stony Hill, Jamaica, features unplugged re-interpretations of Boothe staples “Black, Gold and Green” and “Artibella” as well as songs previously covered by the singer during his ‘60s and ‘70s heyday.
With musical backing from Robbie Lynn (piano), Winston “Bo-Pee Bowen (guitars) and Delroy Nevin (bass) and a battery of Nyabinghi drummers, each track puts a completely new spin on the corresponding original (or covers, as they were). “We wanted to try and bring a different perspective to Ken’s music and really bring out the emotion in his voice,” says Romain Germa, producer of Inna De Yard, along with this year’s The Soul of Jamaica LP (a similarly-hued compilation album recorded at Inna De Yard with Boothe, Kiddus I, Cedric Myton, the Viceroys and Winston MacAnuff).
Beginning his recording career in the early 1960s working alongside Stranger Cole, Boothe hit his stride later in the decade as Studio One’s “Mr. Rocksteady.” In the ‘70s Boothe became something of a covers king, recording reggae versions of ballads like Bread’s “Everything I Own,” an otherwise overlooked track which he took all of the way to No. 1 on the U.K. charts. Inna De Yard features a new version of that song, as well as The Supremes’ “Keep Me Hanging On” (previously recorded by Boothe in 1968) and opens with a new version of “Speak Softly Love,” made famous by Paul Williams as “The Godfather Love Theme” and covered by Boothe shortly after that film’s release in 1974. Not merely covers of covers, these new versions take each song in new directions, adding deeper spiritual overtones via Nyabinghi drums and Boothe’s uber-mature timbre.
While his studio output has been limited in recent decades, Ken Boothe continues to perform regularly in Jamaica and abroad. Last month, he appeared with the Inna De Yard all-stars at Paris’ Le Trianon, in what is hopefully the first of many such international shows.
Ken Boothe’s Inna De Yard is out tomorrow in France and England and all other international territories next Friday, Nov. 17. Stream it here now: