Neil Young’s new album Homegrown is a time capsule from 1975. Young, who was propelled into solo stardom after releasing a string of masterpieces beginning with 1972’s Harvest, initially planned to release the new album just before Tonight’s the Night. However, Young scrapped Homegrown following a listening party in which the albums were played back to back.
Homegrown is a melancholy breakup album written in the aftermath of his deteriorating relationship with actress Carrie Snodgress, and its deeply personal nature scared Young. In a 1975 Rolling Stone interview, Young told future “Almost Famous” director Cameron Crowe that the tracks would never see the light of day. “I think I’d be too embarrassed to put them out,” Young said. “They’re a little too real.”
The opening track “Separate Ways” is enough to convince listeners that we’ve been missing out. Ripped out of time, the song begins midchord and is a direct address to Snodgress about their son Zeke. Young’s voice is devastating and his lyrics are regretful as he sings, “Now we go our separate ways/ Lookin’ for better days/ Sharin’ our little boy/ Who grew from joy back then.” Young is accompanied by drummer Levon Helm, whose unique sound elevated The Band into rock ’n’ roll preeminence. Thanks to Helm, “Separate Ways” sits perfectly beside Young classics such as “Cinnamon Girl” and “Heart of Gold” as one of the greatest contributions to folk-rock.
Young and Helm are joined by fellow “The Last Waltz” collaborator Emmylou Harris on “Try,” a slightly more hopeful song that hints at reconciliation without promising anything. Harris’ backing vocals and Helm’s light drumming complement Young’s piano and signature harmonica to invoke an ephemeral quality. Harris also backs Young on Homegrown’s final track, “Star of Bethlehem,” which better illustrates her country influence and brings the overall album closer to the pastoral tone of Harvest.
Robbie Robertson, another luminary from The Band, joins Young on “White Line,” which was rerecorded as a power ballad for Young’s 1990 album Ragged Glory. The earlier release features Young’s muddy, distorted guitar backed by a full band, but the Homegrown version is an intimate acoustic duet between Young and Robertson. The song is enhanced by the minimalistic arrangement and is much more stirring when stripped down to its basics.
In addition to Young’s familiar folk-rock ballads, Homegrown also features the vulnerable, angry “Vacancy” and the bluesy jam “We Don’t Smoke It No More.” The latter is an unfortunately unexciting track that, while remaining an enjoyable listen, contributes little to the otherwise committed album. “Vacancy” is a late highlight in which the sorrow of the early tracks has turned to venomous rage. Young frustratedly sings to an ex, “I look in your eyes and I don’t know what’s there/ You poison me with that long, vacant stare.”
The most baffling part of the album is its spoken-word midpoint “Florida,” in which Young’s voice is accompanied by the grating sound of wet fingers on the rims of wine glasses. As the background noise becomes increasingly unbearable, Young calmly recalls a visit to a Florida town in which he witnesses a horrifying glider crash that kills the pilot and a passing couple, leaving him to argue with a bystander about the dead couple’s surviving baby. This interlude serves only to make the listener more appreciative for the resumption of the music. It is followed by the simple, reflective “Kansas,” which opens appropriately with the line, “I feel like I just woke up from a bad dream.”
In a post to the Neil Young Archives website, Young apologized for putting Homegrown in the vault, saying, “I should have shared it. It’s actually beautiful. That’s why I made it in the first place.” Some of the songs have previously appeared on Young’s albums, but they feel more appropriate in this release, which features the tracklist in its intended order and is presented under the 1975 cover art by Tom Wilkes. While this lost album would not have redefined Young’s career, its timeless quality upon release is a testament to the staying power of Young’s early work.
Contact Neil Haeems at [email protected].