Album Review: Neil Young – Homegrown (Reprise)

It’s been a long wait, but after coming this close to being released in 1975, Neil Young’s Homegrown is finally out.

Recorded in 1974, many of the songs on Homegrown are intimate ruminations by Neil on his relationship with actress Carrie Snodgrass, with whom he had recently had a child. Sadly the couple was going through tough times, eventually splitting. So, perhaps Neil got cold feet at the last minute, releasing Tonight’s The Night instead, and sparing Carrie, himself and us from these very honest songs.

Not surprisingly, the album begins with Separate Ways. And, hey, it sounds like classic Neil from this period…that familiar plodding beat, Neil’s guitar and harmonica and Ben Keith’s wonderful pedal steel guitar.

Track two is a bit more upbeat. Titled Try, it’s Neil on piano with Emmylou Harris singing backup. Neil’s lyric is even a tad playful…”here’s looking up your old address”. Again Ben Keith’s pedal steel sets the mood.

The third track, Mexico, may be the shortest (1:41) but its also the most heart-wrenching.  This is just Neil and his piano, in a very intimate setting singing lines like, “the feeling’s gone” and “think I’ll go to Mexico”

Several of the track initially destined for Homegrown have since been released elsewhere. Probably the most well-know is Love Is A Rose. Linda Ronstadt covered it back in the day and Neil eventually released it on his 1977 Decade album.  Here now is the original version.

Other tunes that slipped out over the years are Little Wing (Hawks And Doves) and Star Of Bethlehem and Homegrown (American Stars & Bars).

The strangest track here is Florida, a “spoken word” performance that sounds like a stoned Neil rambling almost incoherently about going to Florida and then recounting a tragic story about a glider accident that kills a couple. Very strange.

After that, we’re back to more traditional acoustic Neil. Kansas seems to be about a one night stand while We Don’t Smoke It No More, a blues jam with a lazy beat, makes the case for the exact opposite of its title.

The album wraps up strong with White Line (easygoing guitar and harmonica), Vacancy (classic electric Neil with a full band) then the familiar Little Wing and Star Of Bethlehem.

It difficult to speculate on how Homegrown would have been received back in 1975…let’s face it though, Tonight’s The Night was no bed of roses, described at the time as “preoccupied with death and disaster” and “sloppy and unarranged”.

One never really knows what’s going through Neil’s mind, you just need to hang on and hope for the best. I haven’t been blown away with much of his recent output, but I must say I did enjoy finally hearing Homegrown the way it was meant to be heard. Who knows, perhaps Neil’s creative juices will start flowing again after revisiting this slice of his “classic” period.

Marty Duda