This is a bit of a sad album to review, because it’s one that’s filled with promise that was somehow squandered. While there have been other artists named Hot Knives – including an ‘80s English ska band – the original deal was a mid-‘70s muscular folk rock outfit out of San Francisco. Alas, the band, which included Danny Mihm and Tim Lynch of the Flamin’ Groovies, recorded an album’s worth of songs in 1976, only to have a handful of them appear on seven-inch singles that hardly made an impact commercially. Then the album’s worth of tunes was shelved and forgotten for the next 35 years.
More happily, Hot Knives has been finally rescued and issued to an audience of audiophiles who will dig the anachronistic sounds conjured by the band. Believe me, this record would have been a relic if it had been released after it was recorded, largely mired in acid-washed ‘60s psychedelica with the strong arm of ‘70s power pop as an extra ingredient. In fact, as pointed out on at least one blog I researched, Hot Knives is the antithesis to the slick and plastic Californian sounds of Fleetwood Mac, which was beginning its ascent to the top of the charts around the time this was made. What’s more, Hot Knives comes across as being a heavier Jefferson Airplane with its male/female harmonizing.
At the end of the day, Hot Knives is an astonishing, great Nuggets-like document, though one that is worse for wear. The sound is raw, the recording quality is iffy, and full of drop-outs and flutter, and, at times, a gauze of very loud tape hiss. However, over the course of 11 originals and three covers, the band offers a hippy, trippy time warp back to a Summer of Love sound with a little arena rock oomph thrown in for good measure. In fact, listening to this album is like discovering a lo-fi lost gem. If mid-period Guided by Voices had been a jangly, country-ish folk band with rock leanings on the West Coast back in the day, the end result would have been Hot Knives. And that very end result will have you shedding a tear over what could have been, if only the disc hadn’t languished beyond obscurity. Thankfully, what had been lost has now been found and Hot Knives is near essential listening to anyone who likes a little punishing guitar crunch in their folk music. The album is not entirely consistent in sound beyond the lo fi quality, having been recorded in three different studios with the band clearly experimenting with different guitar sounds in the process, but that’s hardly a knock when the songs are this good. Hot Knives is a great patchwork quilt of nostalgic folk rock that bands just stopped making. Get it, and celebrate that music this vibrant and original has finally seen the light of day.