Dan Stuart was the singer/songwriter/guitarist with the band Green on Red, which started in Tucson in 1979 (as The Serfers) but quickly moved to Los Angeles where it became part of the “paisley underground” movement of supposedly neo-psychedelic Alternative bands. The group lasted until 1992 without widespread success, but a San Francisco guitarist who joined in 1985 — Chuck Prophet — has gone on to win acclaim as a writer and performer of poignantly gritty, romantically literary, sad but wise Americana songs.
Judging from Stuart’s new solo album — which is titled The Unfortunate Demise of Marlowe Billings and accompanies his new novel of the same name — he is now ready to challenge Prophet as the most celebrated songwriter to come out of Green on Red.
Since the end of Green on Red (there was a reunion in 2005), Stuart became something of a wanderer. He married and had a son and lived in Europe, Tucson and New York before moving to Mexico after a divorce. Occasional albums — archival and new solo and collaborative projects — emerged, but it wasn’t until this decade that he has really tried to revive his career by using the semi-autobiographical, noir-ish alter ego of “Marlowe” to unify two previous records, one previous “false memoir” and the recent Unfortunate Demise record and book.
I haven’t read the Unfortunate Demise book yet, but the record is extraordinary. While made in Mexico City with some first-rate supporting musicians and Danny Amis of Los Straitjackets producing, it has the eerie intimacy, weather-beaten weariness and a vulnerable roots-rock honesty akin to heralded Tucson-based acts like Giant Sand, Howe Gelb and Calexico.
And the subjects of his songwriting are memorable. “The Day William Holden Died,” for example, is about the aging movie star who in 1981 died after falling in his apartment while intoxicated and going undiscovered for four days. “Tucson,” with its Garage Rock-style farfisa organ pumping away, is a declaration of moving on from home. And the outstanding closer “Upon a Father’s Death” is a tough yet elegiac spoken-word remembrance of family life, recalling Guy Clark’s classic “Randall Knife” in approach.
Stuart last year told Houston Chronicle this will be his last album, since listeners no longer view the form as an artistic statement. One hopes the response he gets here and elsewhere on his tour makes him reconsider.
Stuart brings his current solo tour (with Tom Heyman) to MOTR Pub this Sunday, June 30 for a free show. Showtime is 8 p.m.