After relocating from Tucson in 1982, Green On Red joined the Dream Syndicate, Long Ryders, Bangles and others in a Hollywood scene soon to be dubbed the Paisley Underground. The first three releases in that era have been dusted off and reissued: 1983′s Gravity Talks arrived in January on Wounded Bird, while its self-titled 1982 EP predecessor and its follow-up, 1985′s Gas Food Lodging, are cobbled together in a February release on Restless.
While Green On Red’s compatriots were relatively quick to hone their (sometimes painfully derivative) sounds — the Dream Syndicate mined the Velvet Underground, the Long Ryders offered a Byrds/Buffalo Springfield amalgam, the Bangles did a girl-pop update of Nuggets-era garage rock — Green On Red took longer to percolate.
Their 1982 EP, issued under the guidance of the Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn on his Down There Records, captures what is only a semi-realized swath of lo-fi neo-psychedelia, colored mostly by Dan Stuart’s nasally, indie-flat vocals, Chris Cacavas’ keyboard swirl and the 4/4 chug of bassist Jack Waterson and drummer Alex MacNicol. Interesting and energetic, but not really there. Hearing it twenty years later, the song remains the same.
The group graduated to then-coveted Slash Records for its full-length debut, Gravity Talks, available on CD for the first time here with the extra track “Alice”. GOR also gravitated further from its hodgepodge of ’60s grooviness to more of a folk-rock style. More importantly, songs began to take on some real shape, including the raucous “Abigail’s Ghost” and the anthemic “That’s What You’re Here For”. Better playing and production helped the cause. But worthy of revisiting? Only if you want to go the distance.
However, Gas Food Lodging is the right place to start, be it again or for the first time. Originally released by Enigma in 1985 as most of GOR’s paisley compatriots had graduated to the big time — to wit: Dream Syndicate were working with longtime Blue Oyster Cult and one-time Clash producer Sandy Pearlman, the Bangles with a guy named Prince — Gas Food Lodging finds the group finally finding itself. Ample credit goes to new arrival Chuck Prophet, whose sharp and soulful fretwork pulled the band’s sound from the psychedelic ghetto into a greater multi-dimensional vein. The San Francisco transplant was also credited, according to the reissue’s liner notes, with teaching the others a thing or two about arrangements.
It shows. Gas Food Lodging is a confident, picturesque effort plucked from the Neil Young school of edgy, loose-limbed rock. Frontman Stuart compounds the comparison, coming off as Young’s younger, drunker and wider-eyed brother, complete with warbly notes perhaps not meant for the squeamish. The album is essentially a road document — “Black River” and the manic “Hair Of The Dog” consider indie-rock touring and the booze that enhances it, respectively — but its real resonance is in its sense of the restlessness and dissolution experienced by many in the Reagan era. Still, songs such as “That’s What Dreams Were Made For” and “We Shall Overcome”, the latter a cover of the famed protest song that succeeds against all odds, sound perfectly applicable again here in 2003.
That Gas Food Lodging is coupled most jarringly with the ’82 EP is a bit of an oddity — a random result of a record label having the rights to both releases but none other. While it would have made more sense for the EP to tag along instead with Gravity Talks, take it for what it is — a curious bonus that shows how far Green On Red came.