Many of California’s psychedelic revival bands originally drew on spacey/chaotic sources like the Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd or classic trance-inducers like the Serpent Power. But early records by the Phoenix, Arizona- born Green on Red alternately recall the fuzzified raunch of the Electric Prunes/Seeds and the merry flower power of the Strawberry Alarm Clock. Filling the seven tracks of Green on Red (not actually their debut: that was a little-known self-released 1981 red-vinyl 12-inch, with five songs and no overlap) with buzzing guitars, droning organ and pretty melodies, the quartet delivers transcendental lyrics in a monotonic stupor that precisely suggests total pharmaceutical oblivion. Good studio sound helps convey the sincere nostalgia.
Gravity Talks has a simplified and, in one spot, Dylanized feel. (The title track uses chipper organ and reeling vocals to evoke “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine).”) Elsewhere, Green on Red largely abandons its previous style in favor of unembellished rock and folk- rock. At the LP’s relative weirdest, Chris Cacavas’ organ- playing sounds like several genres from the ’60s, but only mildly; Gravity Talks never becomes as intentionally mannered as its predecessor. Unfortunately, Dan Stuart’s not much of a singer and his songwriting could likewise be stronger.
Gas Food Lodging introduces guitarist Chuck Prophet IV to the lineup and adopts a full-scale countryfied sound, a mangy cowpoke hybrid somewhere between Pat Garrett-era Dylan and old Neil Young. Stuart’s boozy singing suits the sloppy playing and demi-melodies; the band’s comfortable enthusiasm covers a lot of the record’s flaws. (Original US copies were pressed on green vinyl and as a 10-inch; the CD adds a track.)
The country-rocking No Free Lunch makes it hard to believe that Green on Red was ever remotely connected to psychedelia. At its most effective, the mini-album includes a cover of Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away.” Otherwise, the band tries far too hard to fit into the boots of hard-drinkin’, populist-minded Amuhricuhns for the contents to be taken seriously. The music is adequate (for a loose, amateurish C&W bar band), but the fake accents and predictable lyrical imagery turn this would-be sincerity into a pretentious muddle.
With drummer Keith Mitchell, fresh from work with David Roback and Kendra Smith, joining the lineup, the freeway cowboys oddly add gospelly backup singers to the country- blues-rock mélange on The Killer Inside Me, roughly produced by Jim Dickinson. Stuart’s raspy whine announces itself as the record’s only consistent focal point; alternately overblown and ragtag arrangements don’t help selfconscious tunes like “Clarkesville” and “No Man’s Land” stand on their own slender merits.
Backed by a local lineup featuring Alex Chilton bassist Rene Coman and co-producer Jim Dickinson, Stuart and Prophet immersed themselves in Memphis ambience to record the loose and likable Here Come the Snakes, an overtly Stonesy record that travels the backroads of American music to fine effect. Again switching easily among rock, blues and country idioms, what’s left of Green on Red sounds relaxed and confident, a warm and boozy vehicle for Stuart’s amusingly wry regrets and social observations. For once, Green on Red has realized its downwardly mobile ambitions.
Getting Glyn Johns to produce This Time Around, the Stuart/Prophet duo (backed by Coman, a drummer and an old-fashioned keyboard player) keep messing around in old Stones turf, but the resonant Memphis mood that made sense of the previous LP is in short supply here. Lacking conviction (or at least credibility), the new songs (like the dismal “Pills and Booze”), while of a similar mind, are more by-the-number constructions than emotional outpourings.
Keyboardist Chris Cacavas sings simple, unassuming rock and country-rock originals (with a nifty jazz slant on “Blue River”) in a pleasant voice on his fine solo debut, produced by Steve Wynn. Free of his old band’s obligation to sound wasted, Cacavas digs into similar roots and comes up with clearheaded, plain-spoken songs about love and loss, leaving out the ambience and attitude in favor of perceptive lyrics and stout melodies. (The CD and cassette add a bonus track.)
Jack Waterson, who was Green on Red’s bassist up through The Killer Inside Me, also made his solo debut in ’89. With primary instrumental backing by a drummer and ex-Long Ryder bassist Tom Stevens (who also played guitar and produced), the acoustic/electric Whose Dog? is one of those records that was probably more fun to make than it is to hear. Waterson is neither a talented singer nor a substantial songwriter, and the album is too loosely organized to build on his efforts.
Prior to joining Green on Red, Chuck Prophet had a San Francisco quartet called Wild Game. The seven-song Rhythm Roundup is rather a stylistic roundup, with songs that favor early Dexys (with R&B horns and blurted vocals), crisp country (with Nashville guitar), Jam-like Joe Jackson rock and acoustic hootenanny folk. Weird but promising.
Prophet’s solo record — slow, sparsely produced swamp/country rock (imagine Johnny Cash, John Hiatt and John Fogerty swapping songs) with snappy guitar frills — is actually a duo effort with singer Stephanie Finch, who provides honeyed balance to Prophet’s rough voice. The material on Brother Aldo is simple and homey, flimsy but adequate to the pair’s approach, which favors mood more than content.