Neil Young

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Homegrown Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Back in the spring of 1975, Neil Young planned to release Homegrown, an album he completed at the start of the year, but he also had Tonight's the Night -- a rambling, heavy record cut back in 1973 -- ready to go. After playing the two albums back to back for a small circle of friends, Young opted for Tonight's the Night and shelved Homegrown for the better part of 45 years. Unlike other scrapped Neil projects, Homegrown never circulated in full on bootleg, but it was stripped for parts: "Star of Bethlehem" wound up on American Stars 'n Bars alongside a re-recorded version of Homegrown's title track, "Love Is a Rose" popped up on Decade, "Little Wing" was unveiled on Hawks & Doves, and "White Line" got a loud, lumbering makeover by Crazy Horse on Ragged Glory, released a full 15 years after this original version. Recycling songs isn't uncommon for Young, but the dismantling of Homegrown can also be seen as an extension of the real reason why he chose to release Tonight's the Night instead of this shambling, homespun affair: some of the album cut a little too close to the bone, revealing a little too much of the dissolution of his romance with Carrie Snodgress, so he pushed it away.

Like all heartaches, this pain diminished over the years, and by 2020, Young was ready to unveil Homegrown as part of his ongoing Archives series. Heard as its own distinct work, Homegrown is indeed emotionally candid, but it's also warm, funny, stoned, and spooky, considerably lighter than either Tonight's the Night or On the Beach yet more cohesive in its weirdness than American Stars 'n Bars and not as cozy as Comes a Time. Oddly, the album is front-loaded with its explicit breakup songs, starting as the country-rock ramble "Separate Ways" is underway. "Separate Ways" is paired with the loping "Try" and spacy solo sketch "Mexico" before the album settles into familiar territory with "Love Is a Rose" and "Homegrown." From this point forward, Homegrown will take the occasional detour into melancholy and strangeness (the spoken-word "Florida" vibrates on a different wavelength from the rest of the record), but it also finds time for the rowdy doper blues "We Don't Smoke It No More," the restless twilight rocker "Vacancy," and the delicate closing pair of "Little Wing" and "Star of Bethlehem," which end the album a tentatively hopeful note. Hearing these (sometimes very familiar) songs in this particular sequence is a journey, one that winds along a twisted road yet provides an experience as complete as its mid-'70s companion LPs. It's not a footnote but an essential part of Neil Young's catalog.

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