The Drifters

Live at Harvard University

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This live album is a vital document for serious fans of the Drifters, containing a complete (or near-complete) concert from December 1972 by a lineup that could claim reasonable authenticity. Charlie Thomas, Elsbeary Hobbs, and Doc Green had all been members of the group in its 1960s incarnation along with guitarist Abdul Samaad (previously known as Billy Davis). The one new member, Bobby Ruffin, was a good first tenor -- one pauses, however, when Charlie Thomas announces "Honey Love" as a song that "we recorded with the late, great Clyde McPhatter." The Drifters cut the song with McPhatter, true enough, but Thomas and the others were so far from the lineup of the group at that time that he should have gagged on the sentence. The performance is spirited, however, and there is some superb harmonizing here. Time was when Charlie Thomas lost out on his chance to be the lead singer of the Drifters because of mike-fright in the studio, but on stage he had far fewer problems, as demonstrated here. The raps by Thomas extend some songs, such as "Save the Last Dance for Me," to extreme lengths, and depart from the songs altogether at times, though the singalong on the latter ends up being fun to hear.

Basically, the group was trying to form a compromise between its core repertory and late-'60s/early-'70s soul, with Samaad's nimble guitar playing -- alternating rhythm and lead in front of a small backing band -- providing a solid base on which to build. The versions of "This Magic Moment," "True Love True Love," "Lonely Winds," "White Christmas," and "The Bells of St. Mary's" receive elegant performances that are faithful to the originals, while "Money Honey" more than does justice to the 1953 classic, with a brief blues break by Samaad that genuinely adds some new facets to the piece. "Under the Boardwalk" and "On Broadway" both get delightful, soaring performances, and "There Goes My Baby" isn't far behind, except that it does seem a little ragged (despite their best vocal efforts) as a finale -- though one can't imagine what other song (except perhaps "Money Honey") could possibly have been their finale. The tape itself is a pretty fair professional job that evidently was privately owned and licensed to New Rose; the sound is better than good, but the "notes" are rather pathetic in both depth and accuracy.

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