'Homegrown': Neil Young's 'lost' folk-rock record from the '70s is a painfully personal story of heartbreak
The moments of grief see a brief reprieve from a few oddly-placed tracks that share a love for marijuana as well as Florida
Neil Young's' long-lost folk-rock masterpiece 'Homegrown' is finally seeing the light of day with a new release date of June 19. Roughly forty-six years after its original recording, Neil Young announced he would be releasing one his most storied and sought-after albums ever, 'Homegrown'. Often referred to by fans as one of Young's mysterious, great 'lost albums', the twelve studio tracks were originally set to be released back in 1975 before Young canceled the release on account of the artiste not feeling ready enough to share something so personal with the world just yet.
The album has remained unreleased until now, achieving legendary status among Young's fans in the process. Young had confirmed the album would come out on CD and digital formats on April 24 via Reprise Records. Unfortunately, that date just so happened to fall within the coronavirus lockdown period, and the album, which features tracks recorded between June 1974 and January 1975, just as Young's relationship with Carrie Snodgress was coming to its painful end, was delayed once more. Thankfully that didn't deter Young, however, and 'Homegrown' will finally make its way into the hands of fans who have patiently waited for its release.
Young describes Homegrown as 'The One That Got Away'. In a letter posted on Neil Young Archives last year, he states, "I apologize. 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. Anyway, it's coming your way in 2020, the first release from our archive in the new decade." He continues, "Made in 1974 and early 1975 with Levon Helm drumming on some tracks, Karl T Himmel on others, Emmylou Harris singing on one, Homegrown contains a narration, several acoustic solo songs never even published or heard until this release and some great songs played with a great band of my friends, including Ben Keith - steel and slide - Tim Drummond - bass and Stan Szelest - piano."
"This is the one that got away, recorded in analog and mastered to vinyl from the original master tapes, restored with love and care by John Hanlon. This album, in vinyl, displays the beauty, feeling and depth of music recorded in the analog domain, before digital. It's the perfect example of why I can't forget how good music used to sound. Although it still sounds very good in digital, it's worth buying a phonograph just to hear this and the other great vinyl archive releases we are making for posterity continuously at NYA. These are the best. Come with use into 2020 as we bring the past."
Admittedly, despite its pristine audio quality thanks to the efforts of Young and John Hanlon, 'Homegrown' retains its old school charm. It still feels like a record out of the '70s albeit enhanced just enough for Young's emotive voice to shine through. Young also adds with regards to 'Homegrown, "This album is the unheard bridge between Harvest and Comes a Time." Recorded in analog, and mastered from the original master tapes, this long-lost album is a wonderful addition to Neil's incomparable catalog.
The album is made up of twelve songs, of which seven are previously unreleased -- 'Separate Ways', 'Try', 'Mexico', 'Kansas', 'We Don't Smoke It No More', 'Vacancy', and 'Florida' (a spoken word narration). Also included are the first recordings of 'Love Is A Rose', 'Homegrown', 'White Line', 'Little Wing', and 'Star Of Bethlehem', different versions of which would all later appear on Young's other albums. Young plays solo on some tracks (guitar, piano, and harmonica), and is joined by a band of friends on other tracks, including Levon Helm, Ben Keith, Karl T Himmel, Tim Drummond, Emmylou Harris, and Robbie Robertson.
Album opener 'Separate Ways' is gorgeously melancholic. Those two words don't often go together, yet Young's song that details the bitter end of a relationship is as good as good music can get. Things get slightly more upbeat on 'Try' sees an attempt at reconciliation of sorts, and therefore this track stands apart from the overall themes of the album, most of which deal with accepting something is over even as your heart aches from the loss. The piano-led track 'Mexico', for instance, has Young yearning to run away to Mexico just so he can escape the pain he's feeling.
The title track is one of the other songs that break from the melancholy of the rest of the album. A concert-favorite, this track is a simple ode to marijuana, and following track 'Florida' is essentially what happens when you smoke enough of that homegrown weed: it's a narration about Florida, as the name implies, and has Young rambling on about "gliders in the sky." Odd as it may be, it's somehow hard to peel yourself away from the track. But in addition to the obvious references to being high, this section of the record also subtly points to Young having spent most of the '70s on the road: it goes from 'Mexico' to 'Florida' to 'Kansas', all tied together by the yearning for something 'Homegrown'.
'We Don't Smoke It No More' once again takes it back to the theme of drugs, while 'White Line' details the exhaustion that began to set in following the rigorous touring schedule Young was on. The song also painfully recounts how much Young wanted to be back home and make his relationship work, lamenting that he let something meaningful go. After an album that has gone through several phases of grief, 'Vacancy' is a catharsis that sees Young finally release the anger he's been holding in, and the following harmonica-led track 'Little Wing' brings it all back down to the stunning melancholy that 'Homegrown' opened with. Closer 'Star of Bethlehem' wraps up the album by indicating Young is finally coming to terms with his loss and is able to look back on his memories without being destroyed by them.
'Homegrown' has its ups and downs, both musically as well as emotionally. It may not be the greatest Young record in existence as far as many of the artiste's fans are concerned, but it has just enough of his stellar musical and songwriting in there to make the nearly five-decade wait entirely worth it.