Neil Young finally releases 1975 album ‘Homegrown’ and it already feels like a classic – review/stream
Neil Young released so much music in the 1970s, nearly all of it inarguably classic (plus a few classics before the '70s and plenty afterwards), that it's almost unbelievable to think he had an entire album recorded in 1974 and 1975 that's been shelved for 45 years, and that it instantly sounds as classic as all the music he did put out that decade.
Longtime Neil diehards have probably at least heard of the album, and a very small amount of lucky fans may have actually even heard it back in the day. As Neil told Cameron Crowe in a 1975 Rolling Stone interview, he actually held a joint listening party for Homegrown and Tonight's the Night (which was recorded in 1973 and at the time had been shelved for two years), and afterwards he decided to release Tonight's the Night but shelve Homegrown. "They'll never hear that one," Neil said. "Not because Homegrown wasn’t as good. A lot of people would probably say that it’s better [than Tonight's the Night]." Neil continued, "A lot of the songs had to do with me breaking up with my old lady [actress Carrie Snodgress]. It was a little too personal... it scared me. Plus, I had just released On the Beach, probably one of the most depressing records I’ve ever made. I don’t want to get down to the point where I can’t even get up."
As is often the case with "lost" albums, songs from the Homegrown sessions started to pop up on other albums and compilations over the years, including "Pardon My Heart" (on 1975's Zuma), "Star of Bethlehem" (on 1977's American Stars 'n Bars), "Deep Forbidden Lake" (on 1977's Decade), "Love Is A Rose" (on Decade), "Little Wing" (on 1980's Hawks & Doves), and "The Old Homestead" (on Hawks & Doves). Other songs from the sessions were re-recorded for other projects and live albums, including "Love Art Blues" (2014's CSNY 1974), the title track (American Stars 'n Bars), "White Line" (for the bootlegged '70s album, Chrome Dreams, and then for 1990's Ragged Glory), "Give Me Strength" (on the 1976-recorded, 2017-released Hitchhiker), "Hawaii" (Hitchhiker), "Bad News Comes to Town" (on the 1988-recorded, 2015-released live album Bluenote Café), "Kansas" (for the 2009 live film Neil Young Trunk Show), and "Mexico" (Neil Young Trunk Show). The lyrics of spoken word track "Florida" were included in the liner notes for Tonight's the Night, and some of the other songs -- including "Separate Ways" and "Try" -- had been performed live and unofficial live recordings exist. So bits and pieces of Homegrown have surfaced over the years, but the album hasn't seen the light of day in its completed form until now, and other than three songs ("Love Is A Rose," "Little Wing," and "Star of Bethlehem"), these particular recordings have all remained locked up in the vault this whole time.
In that Rolling Stone interview, Neil called Homegrown "the darker side to Harvest." With more hindsight, he called it "the missing link between Harvest, Comes a Time, Old Ways and Harvest Moon" in Jimmy McDonough's 2002 Neil Young biography Shakey. Those albums are all on Neil's folkier, more acoustic side, and Homegrown is indeed cut from that cloth. As soon as you hear the opening of "Separate Ways," you're transported right back to the warmth of the Harvest era. It's of the same proto-slowcore variety of that album's opener "Out On the Weekend," but even more haunting and melancholic. Just 30 seconds in, and Homegrown already lives up to the description Neil gave Cameron Crowe of it 45 years ago.
That same mood carries over into second track "Try," which -- like "Separate Ways" -- features The Band's Levon Helm on drums, and Levon really managed to capture the bare-bones, slow-paced drumming style that these types of quietly revolutionary Neil Young songs always demanded. "Try" is also one of two songs on Homegrown with backing vocals by Emmylou Harris (the other being "Star of Bethlehem"), and her soaring voice makes for a truly lovely contrast with Neil's more somber delivery. And as melancholic as those songs are, they've got nothing on the melancholy of the entirely-solo cuts "Mexico" (voice and piano) and "Kansas" (voice, acoustic guitar, and harmonica), or on "White Line," which features Neil, his acoustic, and his harmonica joined only by some lead guitar by The Band's Robbie Robertson. It's on those breathtaking songs where you can really hear why Neil -- coming right off the release of On The Beach -- might have felt like he was digging himself into a hole of dour, depressive music. But all these years later -- now that Neil has cemented his legacy over and over again and proven to be an artist who can evolve and adapt with the times without losing his own uniqueness -- those songs feel like buried treasure, especially for fans who gravitate towards his most hushed material.
Still, the album isn't all doom and gloom. Neil himself calls the title track a "goofy" tribute to homegrown weed and I wouldn't disagree with that description. The spoken word track "Florida" is an oddity that helps the album deviate from its overall tone, and "Vacancy" is a rocker that could've easily fit on a Crazy Horse record. It's a '70s Neil Young record; it's not gonna be one-note.
One question that's still left unanswered is how similar this release of Homegrown is to what would have come out if Neil did release this album in 1975. There are other songs from the Homegrown sessions that still haven't seen the light of day in their original form -- or in any form -- and just speaking as a hungry fan, I would've liked if the album had even more of the vaulted material. (How about a deluxe edition, Neil?) That said, the album has a great sequence and a real natural flow to it, and those three previously released songs ("Love Is A Rose," "Little Wing," "Star of Bethlehem") fit right in. And it's only right now upon the album's release that the tendency is to see how it compares to the other Homegrown material that's crept out over the years. You can't rewrite history, but going forward, Neil now has one more great '70s album in his discography, and it won't be surprising or undeserved if one day Homegrown is considered just as classic as Harvest and Comes A Time.
Homegrown officially comes out Friday (6/19) via Reprise but you can stream it now at NeilYoungArchives.com.
Update (6/19): Out now everywhere. Listen below.