Formed in 1969, Humble Pie was an English rock band led by ex-Small Faces singer-guitarist Steve Marriott and a very young yet-to-be famous Peter Frampton. Very much in the line of contemporary acts like The Faces, The Who and Led Zeppelin, Humble Pie never really achieved the recognition and success of their peers but did release a few good albums in the period between 1969 and 1975, whilst also building a reputation as a strong live act.
One of their earlier more experimental albums was 1969s Town and Country, their second release and one of their best works. Stylistically Town and Country was very different from the hard rock sound Humble Pie became known for in the early-70s and contained an eclectic mix of acoustic folk, rock and roll, and boogie rock. In fact the album was very much in the mould of their live shows at the time which contained an acoustic set followed directly by an electric set, with softer tracks interspersed with heavier guitar-driven material. This album much like the band itself was very much a showcase for Frampton and Marriott to display their talents, the former who would go on to establish a successful career as a classic rock staple in the mid-70s, and the latter who had a reputation to live up to in the form of one of the 60s most loved bands the Small Faces. And showcase their talents they did, Frampton’s acoustic guitar playing is incredibly layered and very much like that of the great English folk players of the early-60s, while he gets a chance to display his vocal qualities on tracks such as “Home and Away” and “Take Me Back”. Because Frampton sings solo on several of the tracks and on occasion in unison with Marriott, we hear less of Marriott and his amazing vocal prowess. A shame considering he possessed one of the greatest voices to come out of Britain. But when he does let rip on songs such as the soulful “Cold Lady” and the rock and roll boogie of “Sad Bag of Shaky Jake” his vocal delivery just oozes soul and gospel and is definitely one of the highlights of the album. The singing on bonus track “Wrist Job” is out of this world, with Marriott not only singing like a man possessed with that gravely soulful voice of his but also showcasing his ability on the Hammond organ with a blistering solo. Why this track missed the final cut for the album is hard to fathom.
One criticism I do have of Town and Country is that there is probably a little too much in the way of acoustic/folk tracks for my liking, especially as the more rockier tracks are of such good quality and not to mention Marriot’s background as a great R&B singer. In some places the acoustic numbers have a tendency to drift along without doing much to the point that it gets a bit laborious to listen to, but I guess when you consider that the folk sound on display is most unlike them musically we can accuse this and evidently credit them for experimenting this early on in their career.
Although Town and Country did not do anything commercially, it gave a good insight into the bands developing sound, as well as their folk and rock and roll influences. Also from my perspective it is a more enjoyable listen than some of their later albums where they do get very heavy in gravitating towards a hard rock sound. I think the combination of acoustic-folk with rock and roll tracks gives the album plenty of balance and some nice diversity something that their later work tended to lack on occasion. I believe Town and Country holds up pretty well alongside some of the more popular albums from the period and is worth a listen if you are into British rock from the late-60, early-70s.