Review: Taste Humble Pie’s Best Work in This Expansive, if Belated, Box Set

Humble Pie
The A&M CD Box Set 1970-1975
3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

There’s no question that in their prime, the years covered by this collection, Humble Pie was one of the most exciting and crowd-pleasing live bands in the country. But a series of unfortunate, some may say self-destructive, moves by frontman/primary songwriter Steve Marriott, slowed, then finally stopped their momentum and ultimately damaged the quartet’s reputation.

Whether that will be resolved by this better-late-than-never box of the band’s seven albums during the titular time, also known as “the A&M years” is unclear. The music—already available on vinyl in 2017—has been remastered, but not remixed, for the first time which may draw existing fans of the Pie to purchase these titles again. Maybe the addition of 14 rarities along with a beautifully assembled, 64-page hard-backed book filled with photos and frank essays that cover Humble Pie’s history, will entice a few more. But the average price of around $100 for the CD version (twice that for vinyl) is steep for a band that hasn’t really resonated, at least commercially, since the foursome rightly called it quits after 1975’s disappointingly ragged Street Rats.

The sound is a significant improvement over the CDs that have been available for decades. Humble Pie’s soulful blues rocking, with dabs of country and some folk left over from two albums that preceded these years, still feels remarkably fresh. With two good vocalists in bassist Greg Ridley and Peter Frampton (who jumped ship for a solo career after the success of Performance:Rockin’ the Fillmore, replaced by Clem Clemson), along with a great one in Marriott, these guys were explosive on stage.

The peak of their studio work was 1972’s Smokin’ which yielded the FM radio hits “30 Days in the Hole” and “Hot ‘n Nasty,” after which it was diminishing returns. There were moments on the double album Eat It that captured the band’s boogie glory, but Marriott’s increasingly unpredictable behavior and a lack of quality original material quickly and disappointingly brought the Pie’s momentum to a screeching halt.

This collection adds an eighth platter collecting B-sides and previously unreleased stray tunes. They range from pretty good (the funked up “Tell Me the Truth”), to interesting (four songs with the Pie backing black female vocalist trio The Blackberries) and inconsequential (the ballad “Hurts So Good” replaces drummer Shirley with a cheap drum machine, a lackadaisical cover of Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me”).

The group’s earliest two albums aren’t here but Pie’s most memorable performances came during this period. Since the definitive 2 ½ hour double disc (1994’s Hot ‘n’ Nasty) collecting Pie’s finest work from these years and earlier remains available, this pricey item is geared to those needing to explore the outfit’s music deeper… and have the bank account to do that.          

Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns

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