Neil Young, ‘Homegrown': Album Review
Neil Young has been so prolific over the course of his long career that he's often abandoned albums mid-project to move on to something else that's caught his attention. There's a sizable list of his "lost" albums coveted by fans, many of them stemming from his greatest period, the mid '70s.
Some of these records were finished and stored away; others were never completed, their parts picked at over the years and placed on other albums. Homegrown, originally recorded in 1974 – after 1972's Harvest went to No. 1 and made Young a star and between the 1973 recording and eventual 1975 release of the cathartic Tonight's the Night – sounds little like the album the singer-songwriter ended up releasing that year instead, the raw On the Beach.
Spiritually, Homegrown is a lot closer to the country-rock of Harvest: a mostly acoustic record of love songs that was all ready for release when Young decided to shelve it. Parts of this album – "Love Is a Rose," "Star of Bethlehem" – have shown up on other LPs over the next decade, but the majority of its dozen songs have remained unreleased since they were recorded.
Young has said that Homegrown – which came about after he broke up with his girlfriend and mother of his first child – were too personal for public release at the time, and you can hear some of that vulnerability on display throughout. Harvest accentuated its country-rock with songs about love and family; the country-rock here is a bit more scarred, scraping the remnants of a broken relationship from the surface wounds.
There's sadness here, but there's also a sense of gratitude. Young doesn't look back in anger; instead, he finds comfort in the lasting memories and other more physical souvenirs from the time he and actress Carrie Snodgress were together. "Happiness is never through / It's only a change of plan," he sings in the opening "Separate Ways." "As we go our separate ways, looking for better days / Sharing our little boy, who grew from joy back then."
And in the mournful "Kansas," he reflects on that time together from an earlier, more optimistic vantage point: "I feel like I just woke up from a bad dream / And it's so good to have you sleeping by my side / ... It doesn't matter if you're the one / 'Cause we'll know before we're done." Young is never bitchy or bitter. It was a learning experience, albeit one that left him hurt and withdrawn for a period. (For a deeper understanding of this era, which included the death of a Crazy Horse bandmate as well as a tumultuous tour with Crosby, Stills & Nash, see Tonight's the Night, On the Beach and CSNY 1974.)
The music fits the pain and heartbreak of Homegrown's breakup songs: Strumming acoustic guitars mostly underlie a weary voice that occasionally finds some light in the darkness. Once in a while Young picks up the pace and mood, like in the title track's stoner seal of approval, and "We Don't Smoke It," a harmonica-soaked blues that sounds a bit out of place with the rest of the album. The short, rambling spoken-word piece, "Florida," also interrupts the album's graceful flow.
Like Harvest, Homegrown features appearances by some of Young's famous friends. Emmylou Harris and the Band's Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson show up, but they're mostly shuttled to the background of one of Young's most personal and revealing records. His intimate presence here – along with spare backing performances by a small group – wisely settles the LP into a more soothing mood than the ones found on the often more abrasive albums he ended up releasing around this time.
Young eventually got around to another Harvest-style record with 1978's Comes a Time, after a few more detours along the way. Had it come out in 1975 like Young originally intended, Homegrown would have been a more natural and honest statement at the time. Four and a half decades removed, it sounds like a minor classic from an earlier era – when everything was rushing by so quickly that its peeling back of such exposed emotions now makes it a morning-after complement to the similarly soul-bearing, and no less expressive, Tonight's the Night.