Neil Young’s “lost” 1974 album, Homegrown, finally saw release this year. Although it has been around for years in various bootleg forms (& some songs from it have been played live over the years), the new release is the first time a Neil Young approved version of Homegrown has been available for fans.
As much as I love Neil Young, it would be quite dishonest to describe myself as anything other than a casual fan. I own a few of his records (Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, After The Gold Rush, Harvest, American Stars ‘N Bars etc.) & this excellent greatest hits collection, but I am by no means a collector or completionist. As such, I have personally never heard any previous bootleg versions of Homegrown before. Although I do know the version of the title track that made it onto American Stars ‘N Bars. I am approaching this as a fresh Neil Young album & with a little excitement, if I’m being honest.
Rock steady rhythm section. Check. Country inflected rock rhythms. Check. Atmospheric, instinctual harmonica playing. Check. Lapsteel. Check. Plaintive falsetto vocals. Check. This is definitely a ’70’ Neil Young album. Homegrown seems to be light on the crunchy guitar sound that Young was already known for at this point.
Separate Ways & Try are heavily lead by the rhythm section, lapsteel & harmonica providing the majority of melodic content. Mexico is one of Young’s melancholic piano ballads. Love Is A Rose is a percussive country rock song campfire song, with hard strummed acoustic guitars adding colour to the percussion more than anything. Homegrown is the first time we hear any crunchy rock guitar. It’s the same classic rock anthem you know from American Stars ‘N Bars, but perhaps a little rawer in the production. A bit of a highlight for me. Even though it’s not as new as much of the album.
Florida feels to me like something between a satire & a pastiche of Jim Morrisons’ spoken word poetry. Neil Young slowly tells a story about an idyllic town in Florida, a horrific gliding accident & a newly orphaned child, over a noise collage of guitar feedback & tape hiss. It’s very different to the rest of Homegrown. There’s a distinct dreamlike quality to it & it really stands out to me.The following track, Kansas, seems to continue the story , opening with the line “I feel like I just woke up from a bad dream” & featuring references to gliding. It’s a subdued acoustic solo track. Melancholic, minimalist melodies which wouldn’t sound totally out of place on After The Gold Rush. It’s hard to write about new music by an artist with a catalogue as vast as Neil Young’s, without comparing tracks to others from his catalogue.
We Don’t Smoke It No More is plodding, blues inspired Rock And Roll, with barroom piano, harmonica histrionics & as solid a rhythm as you’ll find anywhere on Homegrown. There’s plenty of Neil Young’s rough and ready lead guitar playing to go around too.
White lines is all midnight harmonica, galloping country rhythms & instinctive sounding acoustic guitar playing. It has an almost jammed quality to it, improvisational. It reminds me of when a demo is so good it gets included on the album.
Vacancy is a mid tempo rock number with big crunchy guitars. Practically written for stadium & festival gigs. I imagine it would sound thrilling in the open air. Little Wing is another tune which has appeared on other releases. 1980’s Hawks & Doves in this case. It’s another simple, acoustic led ballad with beautiful atmospheric harmonica parts.
To end, we’ve got Star Of Bethlehem, which also appeared originally on American Stars ‘N Bars. A chipper, upbeat Country Pop song with pleasant vocal harmonies & biblical references. Follows in Neil’ Young’s “tradition” of putting pleasant, short & simple songs at the ends of albums. Think Cripple Creek Ferry at the end of After The Gold Rush. That’s the kind of ballpark we’re in here.
Homegrown is out now on Silver Bow Productions.
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