Ghost town lullabies
Broken hearts, midnight sojourns and an apology to Hank Williams highlight the recently released album from local singer/songwriter Neil Greene. Recorded in various apartments across three states primarily between 2003 and 2004 with Greene playing all the instruments on the album, Taxidermy is a folk-rock-country amalgam that embodies the locale of its creator, a native Nevadan.
“There’s something specific about this area, and I noticed in my early 20s that there were a lot of people into the same kind of music as me—that borderline, weird gray twilight between country and rock that is kind of emblematic of our region. It’s almost metropolitan, but at the same time, it’s on the cusp of being rural, too, you know?”
For Greene, a mixture of country, rock and folk expresses the simultaneously (and seemingly contradictory) urban and rural nature of the modern West. The album’s opener, “Nobody’s Song,” invites comparisons to Neil Young’s Harvest-era sound and wistfully longs for a time when it was clear who our heroes were: “I’d turn on the radio/ But they don’t play music anymore.” “Optimistic Insomniac,” the gem of the album, is the kind of song that will infiltrate your dreams—you’ll wake up humming the tune and putting your CD player on repeat to learn the lyrics by heart. Like many of his best songs, it is an utterly unique, sublime meditation on loneliness, despair, and, ultimately, hope.
Greene’s vocal style gives a slight nod to of one of his early heroes, Buddy Holly, and his playing style is an accomplished mixture of virtuoso mastery and intuitive musical coloring. Often, musical ideas will spring unexpectedly from an improvisatory part or even a (supposed) mistake.
“I like not knowing what’s going to happen,” says Greene. “It’s fun thinking, not, ‘How is this part supposed to go?’ but instead, ‘How could this part go? Where is this part going?’ You just follow it and have fun.”
This organic approach to music-making infuses the album and binds its songs together like the organs of an animal. The album’s title is a metaphor for this idea: each song or idea is an organ, bone or tissue—"You’re assembling a beast when you’re putting together a work of art like that.” All 13 songs are an indispensable part of the living whole.
“Ghost Town Valentine,” a fitting finale to the album, is a kind of ode to the vanishing West.
“When I was a kid growing up in Carson City, at the end of our street there was just fields and fields,” says Greene. “It’s kind of depressing now, every time I go back, and everything’s all paved, and there’s new casinos, new stores, new laundromats—it’s slowly disappearing.”
The chiming, exultant guitars on the song echo the bittersweet recollections of a nostalgically sacred time.
“That’s why this kind of music means a lot to people—because culturally, we’re mourning the loss of a simpler, more straightforward, more moral kind of life that makes more sense. In listening to this kind of music, it kind of draws you back to that, connects you to that kind of life.” He pauses. “But what the fuck can you do, man?”
With brooding love songs and hymns to bygone eras, Neil Greene’s Taxidermy is a near-perfect soundtrack for a late night drive across the Nevada desert, past fields and fields of open space.