So the long lost 1974/ 1975 album Homegrown is finally available for us to listen to. Long discussed in Neil Young circles in hushed tones, it was held back by Young as he felt it was ‘too personal’, releasing the ragged Tonight’s The Night instead. It shows how much of a roll he was in the seventies that he was able to make a choice like this. Some of this material will be known to Young disciples, such as Love Is A Rose (on his 70s compilation Decade), and the title track (on American Stars ‘n Bars) to name two, albeit in different forms. The opener Separate Ways is like ‘Out On The Weekend’ on downers, which is a very good thing! It indicates the mood of the material contained here. Try provides momentary light relief, though Young sounds as worn-out here as elsewhere on the album. Love Is A Rose is probably the most accessible song, an upbeat country-tinged strum that echoes Harvest. You can see in parts why he wavered on this album, songs like the sparse ballad Mexico are so bare and unadorned, they leave him sounding wounded and vulnerable. On the other hand, Florida is just weird, a spoken word rambling story over what can only be described as eerie whiney noises.
It’s not all downbeat, the title track is pretty loose, and certainly less cheesy than the version found on American Stars ‘n Bars. We Don’t Smoke It Anymore is a fairly nondescript blues workout. Much better is the towering electric guitar rocker Vacancy, a song which echoes the best of his Tonight’s The Night/Zuma material. But there’s material with real sensitivity here which will delight the faithful, spooked out acoustic balladry in the shape of Kansas and a gorgeous, acoustic version of White Line. It’s definitely one of his more introspective albums, ending with the muted pair of Little Wing and Star of Bethlehem. Both of these will be familiar, the former opens his Hawks and Doves album while the latter features on American Stars ‘n Bars. Star of Bethlehem, in particular, is definitely worth your time, a deceptively simple guitar picking ballad that Young does exceptionally well.
If there is a warning it’s that hardcore Crazy Horse fans need not apply, this is very much the quieter side of Neil Young, though all the elements of his best work are here. I’d go as far as to say it’s an essential Neil Young album. Not quite sure why this is seeing the light of day now, perhaps he wants to control his legacy and avoid a barrel-scraping exercise in the future, but fans will be eternally grateful.
1. Separate Ways
4. Love Is A Rose
8. We Don’t Smoke It No More
9. White Line
11. Little Wing
12. Star of Bethlehem