Time hasn’t been as kind to Green On Red as it might have. Some people seem to be hellbent on ret-conning them into history as the fathers of alt.country (no offence…they weren’t). Most people seem to have problems remembering them at all. Will this collection of their BBC Sessions see them find their proper place in history?
Probably not. Not because they don’t deserve a little respect and acknowledgement for their back catalogue. Not because, on a good night, they were ‘the best bar band in the universe’. No, the main problem with the band is that they occupy a strange space in the dusty plains of Americana’s back catalogue. They certainly weren’t innovators: their contemporaries Thin White Rope nailed the wierd desert-rock vibe early on, The Meat Puppets and Uncle Tupelo did the punk-country thing a lot better, and and as for Giant Sand, well, they had more people.
So once you get over the fact that we’re not dealing with the second coming here (although singer, band leader and lover of jungle juice Dan Stuart has done his fair share of slouching towards Bethlehem), there’s still a lot to enjoy here. Recorded between 1989-1992, it’s less a comprehensive document and more a lucky-dip of covers, alternate versions and band classics, delivered with some surprisingly sympathetic production from the BBC’s finest knob-twiddlers.
Opener Busted is which is one of the best things here, a cover of the Howard Harlan tune made famous by Johnny Cash , and Dan and the boys supply a version that’s bejwelled with fabulousness. In fact it’s the first four songs here that really make the album worthwhile, including a great, definitive version of Fading Away which is infinitely superior to the version on the band’s second album Gas Food Lodging. And while Stuart’s singing voice had the tendancy to slip into hystrionics live, here he’s happy to slip between Neil Young, Lou Reed, and even a little bit of Dylan.
However, as the ’80s became the ’90s, Green On Red’s career was very much reaching its nadir. And, while the choices of tracks on the later sessions are still pretty astute (Hair of The Dog still sounds like a lost track from The Stones’ Beggers Banquet), the band just don’t seem as together. By the time of the last three tracks here, there’s just Dan Stuart and guitarist Chuck Prophet banging through some very unremarkable meat n’potatoes rock, promoting the worringly-named album Too Much Fun. It wasn’t. The duo threw in the bar towel soon afterwards.
So while this collection is far from challenging cut loaves in the excellence stakes, it works as a reminder of the band and should stimulate at least a few to go and dig out Here Come the Snakes, their best record. Stick it on, pour a cold one, and raise a glass to one of the best forgotten bands of the ’80s and ’90s.