Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Mighty Diamonds

  • Right Time [Virgin, 1976] A-
  • Ice on Fire [Virgin, 1977] B
  • Deeper Roots (Back to the Channel) [Virgin International, 1979] B
  • Reggae Street [Shanachie, 1981] B+
  • Indestructible [Alligator, 1982] A-
  • The Roots Is There [Shanachie, 1982] B

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Right Time [Virgin, 1976]
On the purely aural, preverbal evidence--the sweet, precise harmonies and arrangements, the intent beat--you'd figure they were singing songs of love, or at least sexual mastery. Ditto from their foolish stage act. But in fact there are no broken hearts in these lyrics, only broken bodies, and the exultation is the exultation of oppression defied. In other words, this follows reggae conventions as Americans know it, and on a few cuts conventional is how it sounds. Usually, though, lead singer Donald Sharpe sounds as if he's learned all this more recently than the Bob Marley of Rastaman Vibration. A-

Ice on Fire [Virgin, 1977]
Just as an assassination attempt doesn't commit Bob Marley to propaganda, so the best reggae album of 1976 doesn't commit the Mighty Diamonds to the music of Jamaica. Here they bid to become just another black harmony group, yoking Allen Toussaint's production to the Kingston beat and covering "Tracks of My Tears" (well). We could use another black harmony group, but unfortunately. Toussaint isn't noted for his work with groups, and like most harmony-group albums (not to mention reggae albums) this sounds samey even as it switches unpredictably from Toussaint songs to Mighty Diamonds originals. B

Deeper Roots (Back to the Channel) [Virgin International, 1979]
Most of these songs confidently cross jingle and chant, and Donald Shaw sings in his chains like a true son of Smokey. But never once do the riddims become anthemic. For advanced reggae students only. B

Reggae Street [Shanachie, 1981]
As on so many reggae albums, songs that sound flat at first sink in if given the chance. But reggae's simple melodic devices are wearing so thin that this isn't always a plus--I resisted the title cut even more stubbornly once I remembered how it went, and the old political messages remind me more and more of Sunday school. Nevertheless, I remain basically interested until the middle of side two, with special curiosity as to the current whereabouts of "King Kong." B+

Indestructible [Alligator, 1982]
There hasn't been a Diamonds album as tuneful as this lovingly pieced-together collection since Right Time in 1976, and Sly & Robbie certainly have elaborated their legerdemain in the meantime. But with most of the three-part unisons giving way to Tabby Shaw's lissome but somewhat reserved tenor and the tunes themselves accommodating the dubious "sincerity" of lovers rock, the new classics number only three: one about prison, one about revolution, and one about passing the pipe. A-

The Roots Is There [Shanachie, 1982]
The amazing thing about reggae of a certain quality--in which an affecting singer like Donald Shaw joins ace session players--is that no matter how sedulously it restates platitudes about roots and girls and Jah, its small graces eventually get its equally sedulous melodies across. But why should anyone who doesn't credit the platitudes give them that long? B

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