Neil Young’s legendary lost album Homegrown was never really “lost.” After being written, recorded, and lined up for release, it was pulled and shelved without much explanation. At the time, it probably tracked with the other turbulence his career experienced in the mid-1970s. It was far from Young’s only piece of work to end up in limbo in those years, which also saw the shelving and delayed release of Tonight’s the Night and its follow-up On the Beach, which together are easily his bleakest albums to date.
Despite the mythos built up around this allegedly lost album, roughly half its tracks eventually were released later on. Homegrown features early recordings of “Love is a Rose,” “White Line,” “Little Wing,” and “Star of Bethlehem,” not to mention the title track that would itself later feature on American Stars and Bars. These tracks will sound familiar, and in some cases nearly identical to their later releases, but having them in their original context recasts them as part of the patchwork of complicated feelings Young was experiencing amid the ruptures in his personal life.
While the album as a whole is not as strikingly despairing as Tonight’s the Night, the previously unreleased tracks also happen to be the most raw and affecting. The inner turmoil Young later alluded to is on full display in the opening track, “Separate Ways,” a song that can only have been sung by someone who has all but given up. Interrupted by the cautious, pleading optimism of “Try,” his dark mood resurfaces on the brief, plaintive tracks “Mexico,” and “Kansas.” Even the upbeat, toe-tapping “Vacancy” is full of a spite that is anything but subtle.
Mastered from the original recordings, Homegrown retains their intimate analog warmth. His stripped-back minimal acoustic sound is inviting and warm as it is on his legendary Harvest. Even the slight reverb on the spoken-word track “Florida” adds a certain ambience as Young recounts a dark, rambling story. Emmylou Harris’ backing vocals on “Try” go a long way towards making the track a standout, which had it been released earlier, would probably qualify as one of the most celebrated tracks of that time in Young’s career.
Young has since admitted in interviews that he felt the album was too intensely personal to see the light of day, having been written amid the prolonged breakdown of his relationship with actress Carrie Snodgress. Other times, however, he claimed he decided to abandon Homegrown because he felt Tonight’s the Night was the stronger of the two. It is hard to disagree with Young’s assessment. Had it been released as planned, it would have easily been eclipsed by both Harvest and Tonight’s the Night, although it has enough strong points to stand up as a reasonably memorable album in its own right.
Homegrown will be available to stream and purchase on June 19.
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