Photo: Joel Bernstein
by Brendan Nagle Music Pop Rocks

Neil Young | Homegrown

July 20, 2020

Homegrown is the rare archival release that actually offers substance rather than just ephemera. 

In an age where exhuming stacks of demos and alternate mixes has become the norm for so many older acts, Neil Young’s Homegrown — a scrapped studio album from 1975 — is something of a miracle, one of the rare archival releases that offers something substantial even for the most casual of fans. He has called Homegrown “the missing link between Harvest, Comes a Time, Old Ways, and Harvest Moon,” and indeed, its soft, rootsy sound aligns it with those country-tinged efforts, but digging beneath the surface, one also senses a resonance with the so-called “Ditch Trilogy,” the trio of dark, dour records which directly preceded Homegrown’s writing and recording. Given that Young’s ’70s run was one of the strongest in popular music history, it’s remarkable how well Homegrown holds up alongside its chronological peers. 

Young’s reasons for shelving the album seem to stem largely from the pain associated with its creation, coming in the wake of a difficult breakup with actress Carrie Snodgress: “I just couldn’t listen to it,” he wrote in a recent post, “I wanted to move on.” For Young, 45 years or so seems to have healed those wounds, but the heartache fueling these songs still bears an uneasy immediacy. “Love Is a Rose” (one of five Homegrown tracks which have already seen some sort of release) provides a fundamental sentiment: “Love is a rose, but you better not pick it.” With the exception of a few drug-indebted jaunts (the goofy title track, the blues jam “We Don’t Smoke It No More,” and the surreal spoken-word track “Florida”), the songs on Homegrown tend to center on the dissolution of a relationship and the thorny feelings that come with it. These range from bitterness (“Love Is a Rose,” “Vacancy,” “Star of Bethlehem”) to a more wistful quasi-acceptance. Opener “Separate Ways,” the clear standout, falls in the latter category: “Me for me, you for you / Happiness is never through,” he sings, backed by a groovy Levon Helm beat and Tim Drummond’s melodic bass guitar. “It’s only a change of ways / And that is nothing new.” But he doesn’t sound quite convinced.

Published as part of Pop Rocks | Q2 2020 – Part 1.