“Homegrown is alright by me, homegrown is the way it should be…” If you remember this lil’ refrain then it’s safe to say you’ve been listening to NEIL YOUNG for a long time – or at least since 1977’s American Stars ’N’ Bars, the album it was first heard on. Now it’s featured on Homegrown, Neil’s “new” album that was originally recorded in the mid ’70s and was finally set for release in April 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic pushed Record Store Day back. It’s out now and like many of Young’s latest releases, there’s a bit of a back story.
Shelved in 1975 once he decided a lot of the subject matter was just a bit too personal, Homegrown is the latest in Neil’s Archive series of releases and it’s another good album from a man with way more music in him than we’ll probably ever know. If there’s any doubt about the vulnerability that may be on display, the opening track “Separate Ways” tells you that Neil had a lot on his young mind in late ’74 when these recordings commenced and from there the openness doesn’t let up much. “Try” definitely keeps it going, as does the now familiar “Love Is a Rose” (made a hit by Linda Ronstadt not long after this recording was made) and “Mexico,” which isn’t so much about that country as it is about the peace it would bring to the man’s mind. (Neil also visits “Kansas” and “Florida” – more about that state later.) In all, the album is mostly a low key affair that was absolutely worthy of release.
Primarily recorded in December 1974 (plus or minus six months), Homegrown would have followed On the Beach but was cut from the same cloth as ’72’s Harvest – and featured many of the same players. There’s just not a lot of the rock that Beach had, save for “Vacancy” on side two. A good half of the songs on the album, like the title track, “Love Is a Rose” and “Little Wing” eventually made their way to release on later albums (more about the songs’ destinations here), but these are the original recordings and they make up a pretty cohesive album. Are there tracks on here that we could have lived without? Well, yeah! It’s Neil. I’d be pretty safe in saying “Florida,” with its stoned narrative and wine glass rubbing, could’ve been relegated to a rarities record of some sort. Yet that’s about the only one out of a dozen songs here that misses the mark so it’s good that Neil decided to finally put out Homegrown intact. I mean, at this point, he’s released so much great material that in years to come it’ll be pretty hard to separate the stems ’n’ seeds from his bountiful harvest. (Sorry, couldn’t help it.) Of course, Young releases so many albums these days – of both new material and old – that it’d be easy for the good ones to get lost among them all, but it would be just as easy for the not-so-good ones to get lost, too, so you really gotta check them all out, decide for yourself, and I don’t know, maybe use a post-it note to indicate to yourself which ones you’d want to hear again. I bet this one would be in that category.
Homegrown is available on CD and vinyl, with independent record stores receiving the vinyl that comes with a print of the cover art (which is limited). – Marsh Gooch
3/5 (for Neil) (Reprise 093624898689, 2020)