‘Right Time’: The Mighty Diamonds’ Gorgeous And Urgent Album

The group simultaneously managed to keep aflame the torch of gorgeous group vocals while delivering some of the most revolutionary material of the period.

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The Mighty Diamonds Right Time cover
Cover: Courtesy of Universal Music

American R&B and soul have long been intertwined with Jamaican music’s evolution – from the earliest imported sound system tunes through the developments of ska, rocksteady, and early reggae. But by the mid-’70s the once-ubiquitous Impressions-inspired harmonies of vocal trios like the Cables, the Gaylads, the Paragons, and others were an anachronism, usurped by the militancy of the roots movement. Enter the Mighty Diamonds, who simultaneously managed to keep aflame the torch of gorgeous group vocals while delivering some of the most revolutionary material of the period.

Formed in Kingston in 1969, the trio of Donald “Tabby” Shaw, Fitzroy “Bunny” Simpson, and Lloyd “Judge” Ferguson freelanced with various producers, including Pat Francis and Lee “Scratch” Perry, through the early 70s. Their sound wouldn’t truly coalesce, however, until they began working with producer Joseph Hoo Kim and his brother engineer Ernest Hoo Kim at the siblings’ Channel One recording studio and label. The Hoo Kims were likewise still establishing themselves when they recruited the musicians that would become their in-house band, the Revolutionaries. Appropriately named, the ensemble’s newly paired drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare would advance an innovative (and subsequently extensively mimicked) rhythmic template at Channel One. Meanwhile, Tabby, Bunny, and Judge penned songs that merged the influence of popular Stateside soul groups like the Stylistics and Chi-Lites with the lyrical immediacy the era demanded. United in the studio, the powerhouse combination yielded a series of essential Mighty Diamonds cuts.

Listen to The Mighty Diamonds’ Right Time now.

A widely celebrated classic debut, 1976’s Right Time collects several of these sublime singles and surrounds them with additional songs every bit their equal. Abetted by Simpson and Ferguson’s immaculate harmonies, Tabby Shaw’s lead voice here is as achingly expressive an instrument as reggae has produced – commemorating Rastafarian beacon Marcus Garvey’s prophecy on the title track, exalting repatriation on “Africa,” espousing self-empowerment in falsetto on “Go Seek Your Rights,” or most gloriously on “I Need a Roof,” simply communicating a love for a people. Yet as sweetly sung by Shaw and company, the defiance of “Gnashing of Teeth” (a forewarning of “when the earth has been cleansed and the righteous will be standing on the land”) or the vitriol of “Them Never Love Poor Marcus” (a condemnation of Garvey’s betrayer) are even more striking. Even a reboot of an earlier lovestruck single, “Shame and Pride,” is accented with righteous fervor.

Right Time would ride the wave of the 1970s reggae explosion, picked up by Virgin Records as part of its campaign to woo the international audience. The Diamonds would enjoy a remarkable longevity, continuing to successfully record and perform for decades. But in a tragic postscript, Tabby Shaw was killed in a drive-by shooting in the Waterhouse section of Kingston in March 2022. Days later Bunny Simpson would also pass, succumbing to complications from diabetes. Heard in this context, Right Time’s plea for brotherhood in the face of division and violence “Why Me Black Brother? Why?” is even more heartbreaking, its pain more prescient than anyone could have imagined.

Listen to The Mighty Diamonds’ Right Time now.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. James

    August 25, 2022 at 11:55 am

    Any chance of a new vinyl remaster being pressed? Great Album!

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