Album: Sapphire

Artist: Riff Diamond

Label: self-released

Release Date: May 23, 2017


The Upshot: Hard rock like they useta make in the seminal ‘70s, featuring a fiery femme of a lead singer.


They may be born of the millennial generation, but the four young rockers of Northern Ireland’s Riff Diamond are unabashed children of the ‘70s. And I should know: I came of age during that era, and whether we’re talking the hard-edged, psychedelic-tinged blues rock of Free, Robin Trower, and Humble Pie, or its more distaff iterations such as Fanny, Heart, and Mother’s Finest, I have an instinctive appreciation for latter-day acolytes—and Riff Diamond, fronted by one Becky Baxter, knows its stuff.

For their long-playing, 2LP vinyl/gatefold-sleeved debut, the band—Baxter, bassist Shauna McGarrity, drummer John McNulty, and guitarist/sonic-wizard Conal O’Donoghue—serves up a solid set that includes a pair of choice, classic, covers. Highlights among the originals include the sinewy, sassy “Love Hate,” which pumps and throbs with erotic glee; first single “Diamond Heart,” a moody, soulful showcase for Baxter’s passionate, yearning vocals; and the funky, dirty, downright stanky “Kick In the Teeth” which will, indeed, summon sonic images of both the aforementioned Free and Mother’s Finest. And it takes a whole lotta huevos—I’m not sure what they would call that in Ireland—to tackle “Whole Lotta Love” and “Hey Joe” on a debut album, but against all odds, the band pulls both songs off. The former track is relatively straightforward, relying on sheer delivery oomph rather than any gimmicky midsong effects, while the Billy Roberts classic (best known via the Hendrix version) provides Baxter with another remarkable vocal showcase against which O’Donoghue serves up a smorgasbord of tonal and textural nuances; there’s also a guest blues harpist, one Dan O’Donoghue (Conal’s relative, maybe?), weighing in nicely.

Good stuff all the way through—in the able hands of Riff Diamond, let us head back to the future.

DOWNLOAD: “Kick In the Teeth,” “Diamond Heart,” “Hey Joe”

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