[Editor’s note: This review was originally published on Dec 24th, 2020 for BuriedOnMars.com]
Homegrown is the latest old album from Neil Young to see the light of day as part of his archive series.
Most of Homegrown was recorded in 1974 when Neil was writing and recording new material at a blistering pace. He had just released On The Beach before starting on it while Tonight’s the Night from 1973 was still in the can. When it came time to pick an album to release for 1975, Neil skipped Homegrown and went with Tonight’s the Night instead. His reasoning was that Homegrown turned out to be “too dark and personal” for public consumption.
He didn’t abandon the tunes entirely. Parts of Homegrown have popped up over the years in one form or another. I could do a whole post on it but lucky for me, Rolling Stone already has. Regardless, it is safe to say that a majority of this album has never been officially heard before.
Remarkable considering how good it truly is.
Love is A Rose and Star of Bethlehem are the album’s two best-known tunes as they both still get some radio play (At least here in Canada) and both are included on Neil’s first greatest hits album, Decade in 1977. Love is A Rose features Neil solo on the vocals/harp/acoustic guitar while Star of Bethlehem features the whole band and Emmylou Harris on backup vocals, making it the better representation of a majority of the album.
Really, if you’re into Neil’s most popular album, Harvest, you’ll feel at home here. He is in his country/folk mode and even a couple of members from his backup band on Harvest, The Stray Gators, play on most of the tunes. Returning is Tim Drummond on bass but even more importantly (Sorry Tim!) is Ben Keith on steel pedal guitar. His playing is essential to that Harvest sound. Heck, with Keith here, I might even believe you if you told me these tracks were recorded during the same sessions.
The album’s opener, Separate Ways, makes the statement as Keith’s pedal steel predominantly twangs away over that signature Neil slow shuffle. Try is next and features Emmylou Harris on backup vocals again. Both of these have The Band’s Levon Helm is behind the kit.
The remainder of side one, Mexico, Homegrown, and Kansas all have a similar vibe and probably should have never been buried in the first place. Florida is the only exception to the goodness. It features Neil talking like he is way into the herb while Ben Keith plays some annoying feedback behind him. I have yet to sit through its entirety and probably never will. Forgive me if there is a good song towards the end of the track.
Side two has a little more rock ‘n roll edge with the sleazy blues of We Don’t Smoke It No More starting it off. White Line is an acoustic number but you have Robbie Robertson digging into the lead licks for it. Then Vacancy follows it up with a big Crazy Horse-like riff.
I find “lost” albums that come out decades later usually feeling scrapped together, or at least show evidence for why it was shelved in the first place. Florida aside, Homegrown does not fall into that mold and I believe Neil when he says he had personal reasons for not releasing it.
Imagine that situation… “I’m not going to release this musical genius because it is too personal. Take this other bit of musical genius instead.” lol, only Neil Young.