Green on Red

No Free Lunch

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The critical hosannas lavished upon the album Gas Food Lodging earned Green on Red a major-label deal, though, with appropriate irony, this very American band found themselves contracted to the British branch of Polygram. The label's American imprint, Mercury, picked up their option several months after the group's big-label debut, No Free Lunch, was released in the U.K. An EP running a bit under 24 minutes (a later reissue padded it out to full length with a 13-minute blues workout on "Smokestack Lightning"), No Free Lunch covers territory not dissimilar to that on Gas Food Lodging; nomadic musicians on the road ("Keep on Moving" and the title cut), out-of-work sad sacks ("Honest Man"), families confronted with death and loss ("Jimmy Boy"), and the struggle to believe in something despite it all ("Time Ain't Nothing"). The band even throws in a pretty good cover of "Funny How Time Slips Away," and their performances are noticeably tighter and sharper than on their previous albums (the time on the road after Gas Food Lodging seems to have paid off), while the engineering by Steven Street and Simon Humphries is crisper and better detailed than the sometimes muddy tone of Gas Food Lodging. But while the band sounds game, the songs are good, and Dan Stuart is in unusually strong voice (with the exception of "The Ballad of Guy Fawkes," where he lapses into a curious fake Brit accent, perhaps in tribute to his new corporate sponsors), at only seven songs No Free Lunch seems oddly incomplete, sounding less like a self-contained short work than an album that somehow didn't get finished. There's nothing wrong with what's here, but it's hard not to wish the band had made more of it at the time.

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