In 1975 Neil Young held a party for some friends, members of Crazy Horse and The Band among others, and played them two albums, the one he had just recorded, Homegrown, which dealt with issues from the separation from his wife, actress Carrie Snodgrass, among soft country rock aromas; and Tonight's The Night, the dark and powerful album he had recorded in 1973 after the death by overdose of friends like Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry. At the end of the night, Young decided to opt for the latter, as he had doubts about ‘sharing too much’ with the former; the Canadian wanted to turn the page and his separation was too present, it still hurt and stung. That's how Tonight's The Night saw the light and Homegrown came to be stuck in his archives until now, 45 years later. We saw the damage done by the needle but not the damage done by heartbreak. Now we see the full picture.
I think Young made the right decision: Tonight's The Night was the best of the two, but that doesn't stop Homegrown from being a remarkable record. In a way it is the album that serves as a bridge between Harvest and Comes A Time, as Young himself has pointed out, the one that flirts more with the sound that made him famous. The sweet echoes of the country rock of Heart Of Gold resonate on this album, although lyrically it is closer to the depressive moment of the ' ditch trilogy '. It may lack a classic, at the height of the aforementioned, to reach the top, but this is a remarkable album that should not be overlooked.
Separate Ways offers a smooth and intimate opening that gets you into that country rock spirit - Ben Keith's steel pedal is a marvel - but the first thing Young says is "I won't apologize", the singer is about to open his heart wide. That song is followed by Try, the closest thing the album has to a classic. Try is a great song with excellent vocal harmonies by Emmylou Harris; and Levon Helm bringing all his wisdom to the drums. It's a delicious song, a near classic, over which the shadow of the 'ditch trilogy' depression hangs.
Mexico sees Young accompanied only by piano, and therefore immediately brings to mind the title song of After The Gold Rush. This is the first time that Young plugs in his beloved Old Black. The song is an ode to staying at home that chimes perfectly with the times of 2020, "plant that bell and let it ring". But after this remarkable beginning the track slips a little in its middle. Florida is an experiment in which Young recites a story about when he was a child recovering from polio, and it ends up something like a ghost story; but the experiment unfortunately doesn’t work. Kansas is much better, and offers another example of Young's outstanding acoustics; however, We Don't Smoke is an unnecessary blues rock where all the participants sound the opposite of what the title of the song says, as if they had smoked, and drunk, everything.
But the record gets back on track with the great original version of White Line. Young ‘recovered’ this song in 1990 on one of his electric classics, Ragged Glory, and turned it into a storm with Crazy Horse. Here the song appears in acoustic format with Young employing two acoustic guitars: possibly the Martin D45 from Harvest, and this is accompanied by Robbie Robertson, who could be using one of his Martin D28s. Robertson colours the song with his excellent touch, including his beloved harmonics. This may be the best version of the two.
Vacancy is the best of the (few) electric songs on the album, as here you can appreciate the urgency of the ‘best electric Young’, with the Old Black shining as in the best times. It also contains a great melody. The album closes with two other songs that Young used for other albums, Little Wing and Star Of Bethelem, but which sound totally at home on Homegrown. They ooze sadness and show the wounds of Young's most intimate and personal relationship, especially the latter, which again benefits from the wonderful accompanying voice of Emmylou Harris, "All your dreams, And your lovers Won't protect you, They're only passing through you in the end. They'll leave you stripped of all that they can get, and wait for you to come back again".
This is a Neil Young's 70's album and that in itself already gives it an absolutely classic aura. It may not measure up to the heights of Tonight's The Night, the album it was replaced by, or the great On The Beach; it may not possess the beauty, nor the classics, that populate After The Gold Rush or Harvest; but Homegrown can look into the eyes and even surpass works like American Stars 'N Bars or Comes A Time. This is not just a record for ‘completers’, but a perfect work to understanding Neil Young in his period of splendor.