THIS HAS BEEN a great music year for populist Americana, what with Dwight Yoakum, Steve Earle and the BoDeans all releasing debut albums that merge rockabilly and honky-tonk into a new form of working-man blues.
The five members of Tucson's Green on Red aren't rookies, but their new seven-song EP, "No Free Lunch," is another splendid example of the way country's fatalism and rock's stubbornness can together sum up the contradictions of America's past and present.
Green on Red's Dan Stuart has an expressive nasal twang; the no-nonsense tone inevitably recalls Bob Dylan. Stuart has a knack for writing folk-tale narratives and then giving them a garage-rock urgency. He makes Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away" sound like a Velvet Underground rough demo. "Keep On Moving" is a restless road song bristling with nervous energy; the title tune is the band's hard-knocks story set to a bouncy Texas two-step. The best song is "Time Ain't Nothing," an optimistic growing-up song with a glorious chorus melody.
GREEN ON RED -- "No Free Lunch" (Mercury 826 346-1 M-1); appearing Saturday at the 9:30 Club.