Lost Gem exhibits 1980’s roots rock at its best
Green on Red ‘s No Free Lunch is obscure but charming
Throughout the 1980’s several bands mixed rock, country, and blues. And those artists,including the Cowboy Junkies, Steve Earle and the Dukes, Lone Justice, REM, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and the Georgia Satellites spurred this backlash against the teenybopper and dance culture that became dominant on Top-40 radio.
The aforementioned bands had some modest success, but only Earle remains a force in the music business, although his influence is minimal. The Junkies are still around, but they continue to toil in obscurity despite constant critical acclaim.
Another obscure group of the era was Green on Red, a Tucson band that emerged on the Southern California punk scene circa 1982.
Green on Red finally nabbed a major record deal with the English label Polydor. The group released No Free Lunch, a seven-song EP, in 1985. It was a hit with critics. But it never got any airplay, and disappeared very quickly.
What a shame. I stumbled upon the record at a local record store and bought it largely because I recalled the early reviews from The Los Angeles Times that I read as an eighth-grader. The Times pop critics raved about the band’s work, which mixed a passionate and sometimes angry brand of punk rock with some tear-jerking folk and down-home Country and Western music.
The seven-song set opens with “Keep on Moving,” a country-flavored track where the band is incredibly tight, and lead vocalist Dan Stuart exhibits a flawless delivery. Stuart’s vocals are passionate throughout the album, which sadly is less than 25 minutes in length, and ultimately leaves the true music fan longing for more.
The second track, “Honest Man,” is a sad tune of an elderly man, who longs for someone to “find an honest man to take care of my wife and family and 80 acres of land.”
The third cut is “Ballad of Guy Fawkes,” which is ironically no ballad at all. It’s a rebellious up-tempo punk rock tune that inevitably exhibits Stuart’s vocal versatility. The album’s title track closes the first side of the record and is a rockabilly work. It appears to an autobiographical work of the band’s early trials and tribulations. It, however, is presented in a fun-loving manner.
The second side opens with a haunting and angry rendition of the Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away,” which is by far the most intriguing song contained in the short but powerful work. Stuart and the band make the classic tear-jerker their own much as Elvis Presley did in early 1970’s. Elvis, however, was merely heartbroken and not angry or vengeful.
“Jimmy Boy” follows and tells the tragic story of a father mourning the loss of his murdered son. The work, despite being a bit unnerving, fits perfectly into a set of songs, which attempts to put a happy face on some pretty gloomy circumstances.
The album ends on an upbeat note with “Time Ain’t Nothing.” Here, Stuart and the boys remind us that “Time ain’t nothing when you’re young at heart.”
No Free Lunch represents everything that is great about rock ‘n’ roll.
It chronicles some pretty rotten times. It has love and loss but never seems to lose hope that things may eventually become better.
Stuart is one of the top vocalists of the roots rock era. His delivery is as potent and passionate as REM’s Michael Stipe or Lone Justice’s Maria McKee.