New music that had to wait almost years to get a release. As he readied this album back in 1975, he suddenly hesitated and released something else, an entirely different album. How many musicians have Plan A and Plan B? Maybe Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen, but no one has two albums ready to go. Having one is hard enough. That’s part of the magic of Neil Young.
That 1973 to 1977 period for Young is quite exceptional; he constantly wrote and recorded. He recorded entire albums in a sitting, and at other times cobbled together tracks recorded in different years with different backing musicians.
The man kept you guessing.
I often unpacked a new disc and after hearing it had no idea what it was supposed to mean. Songs that seem like siblings and other as strangers, pulling lyrical moments from far reaches of his universe. I have written extensively about Young, and even this time period. The guy still fascinates me.
So, the material for Homegrown was recorded from 1974 to 1975. These tracks have many different musicians represented.
Young calls this album his link between Harvest and Comes a Time. Okay, I get it, but I really do not. Yes, it has that same acoustic feel of heartfelt songs, but it lacks the finished production and overall quality of those two albums.
As I have written before, Young released several albums in this period that do not sound like these albums, including American Stars ‘N Bars, which drew from these sessions including different versions of several songs on Homegrown.
So, the big question, why did Young shelve this album? From various interviews, Young said the subject matter was too personal. He was writing about the dissolution of his tempestuous relationship with actress Carrie Snodgress. He did not feel it was appropriate to release the songs. Too much pain for everyone.
“This album Homegrown should have been there for you a couple of years after Harvest. It’s the sad side of a love affair. The damage done. The heartache. I just couldn’t listen to it. I wanted to move on. So I kept it to myself, hidden away in the vault, on the shelf, in the back of my mind….but I should have shared it. It’s actually beautiful. That’s why I made it in the first place. Sometimes life hurts. You know what I mean. This is the one that got away.” – Young wrote on his online archives page.
The main musicians are Young, Ben Keith, Karl Himmel and Tim Drummond.
“Separate Ways” 3:33 A very sad song about moving on. Musically, it might have fit on Harvest, but the vibe is very downbeat, like “A Needle and the Damage Done.” The tone of this song tells you what you’ll get on the album. The song fades out quickly, like it is unfinished.
“Try” 2:47 Another slow, plodding song, a bit more positive than the opener, but it feels like his heart really is barely into it. Perhaps the most commercial song on the album, but this really is not a set of songs aimed at radio, the way Harvest and Comes a Time were. Nice steel guitar on this and “Separate Ways.”
“Mexico” 1:40 A soft solo, piano track. A piece of a song, where is the rest of it? When Young plays the piano, the songs are usually short and free of other accompaniment.
“Love Is a Rose” 2:16 Fans heard a version of this on Decade, released in 1977. Linda Ronstadt had a nice hit with her version. Young brings out the beauty in the song, the simplicity is wonderful.
“Homegrown” 2:47 A different version was released on American Stars ‘N Bars. I like this more relaxed version, it is loose, sloppy and fun. Style-wise, this could have fit on Tonight’s the Night, but it is much too positive for that album.
“Florida” 2:58 This is not really a song, more of a spoken word rant. Not sure why it was included, it adds nothing to the collection.
“Kansas” 2:12 Not sure what the lyrics mean. I see no reference to the word Kansas. Young on his acoustic guitar and harmonica.
“We Don’t Smoke It No More” 4:50 Bluesy, slow song, more of the style of Tonight’s the Night or On the Beach. Nice guitar work and the piano rolls along. I have no idea what the lyrics mean.
“White Line” 3:14 Back to the acoustic guitar and harmonica, with guitar duet with Robbie Robertson. This song has some history. Later, a different version was released on Ragged Glory. A live, solo version was released on Songs For Judy (2018) recorded in 1976. This version is pretty nice.
“Vacancy” 3:59 One of the few upbeat electric guitar songs on the set. It does not really fit with the other songs on the album, but it really does not have to. Perhaps a companion of “Hurricane,” which appeared on American Stars ‘N Bars.
“Little Wing” 2:10 The best song on the album. At just over two minutes, Young, with his acoustic guitar and harmonic, paints a melancholy and mournful tapestry. Too bad, this song is so brief, it could be the flip of “Will to Love” from American Stars ‘N Bars. As I listened to it, I knew I had heard this before. It was released on Young’s Hawks and Doves (1980), an album I have totally forgotten about. There are lyrical similarities to J.J. Cale’s Magnolia. I’m surprised no one has said this.
“Star of Bethlehem” 2:49 Another song that was released, on American Stars ‘N Bars. With Emmylou Harris on harmony vocals. A gentle song on acoustic guitar.
The reviews for this album are generally enthusiastic and seem to anoint this as a near classic. It is more of a snapshot for me of an unfinished picture. Heartfelt honesty is not a substitute for quality. Fans and reviewers cut Neil Young a lot of slack; I generally do, but I’m also realistic after fifty years of enjoying his music. Good, but far from great. Not everything in Neil Young’s vault is a cache of gold.