Neil Young | Homegrown | (Reprise)
3.5 out of Five stars
It’s little wonder that any archival Neil Young album takes on a legendary standing. Never mind the fact that he’s become one of rock’s more prolific artists since starting his solo career more than 50 years ago, or that he’s been steadily releasing music from his ample archive for several years now. Young’s chameleon-like ability to morph into any number of musical guises — journeyman rocker, mellow balladeer, rockabilly rebel, country crooner — makes any offering worth investigating.
Homegrown in particular has retained a rarified standing among Young enthusiasts, if for no other reason that it was recorded at a time that found him particularly productive. He was originally intended to release it in lieu of Tonight’s the Night, which had been recorded a year earlier, in 1973, but was still sitting on the shelf. It would provide a follow-up to On the Beach, the album that found its way to record store shelves in the summer of ’74. Plans for a long overdue album from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young — a would-be follow-up to Deja Vu, the quartet’s seminal debut released four years earlier, were abandoned when its sessions came to an unsatisfactory conclusion. Nevertheless, Young did tour with his bandmates that summer. However, he could claim some distraction due to his disintegrating relationship with actress Carrie Snodgress. Indeed, it was that scenario that informed much of Homegrown’s material.
Evidence of that emotional upheaval is apparent in the titles of various tracks — “Separate Ways,” “Try,” and “Vacancy” in particular. Other offerings — the deep blues of “We Don’t Smoke It,” an odd spoken word narrative titled “Florida,” the whimsical title track, and the brief piano-based ballad “Mexico” — varied so substantially that they gave the album a loose, somewhat ill-fitting feel. Nevertheless, given the fact that the songs were largely acoustic — some featuring only vocal, guitar and harmonica — Young suggested it could be part of a continuum that found a fit with Harvest, Comes a Time, Old Ways, and Harvest Moon. In terms of its sound and style, that might have been the case, but in retrospect it doesn’t necessarily measure up to those others.
That said, several of the songs eventually did find their way to subsequent albums, specifically “Love Is A Rose,” “Homegrown,” “White Line, “Little Wing,” and “Star Of Bethlehem.” So too, many of the tracks sound like standard Young. “White Line” is similar in style to “Heart of Gold” with its guitar/harmonic motif and it’s interesting to hear “White Line” in its seminal incarnation as a duet between Young and Robbie Robertson. “Love Is A Rose,” a song familiar to most given its solid standing over the years, could be considered a remake of “Dance Dance Dance,” a Young composition cut by Crazy Horse on their eponymous debut. “Love is a rose but you better not pick it,” Young cautions, clearly referring to his impending breakup with Snodgress.
In the end, Young opted to cancel the album entirely in favor of the darker Tonight’s the Night, claiming that he uncomfortable because the songs felt too personal and revealing. He insisted that it was “a very down album,” although in retrospect it mostly maintained his typical sprawl and drawl. Nevertheless, he decided to abort it entirely at the eleventh hour, but not before a finished cover was created.
In retrospect, Young’s decision may have been for the best, but like everything he’s done, Homegrown still has much to offer. In retrospect, and with all things considered, it’s not a bad blend.