Neil Young’s 1970s ‘Homegrown’ Spills from the Vault – Acoustic Guitar

From the November/December 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By Derk Richardson

The 13th release from the Neil Young Archives since 2006, Homegrown is one of Young’s famously “lost” albums, recorded in 1974–1975 with guitarist Ben Keith, bassist Tim Drummond, pianist Stan Szelest, either Karl T. Himmel or Levon Helm on drums, and Emmylou Harris adding harmony vocals. What Young calls “the unheard bridge” between 1972’s Harvest (the best-selling album of 1972) and 1978’s Comes a Time (Young’s next Top Ten album), Homegrown is indeed dominated by the familiar folky feel of softly strummed acoustic guitars, muffled thudding drums, weepy pedal steel and slide guitars, romantic piano, and wistful harmonica. 

Overall it’s a sad album, with Young’s voice especially fragile on such plaintive songs as “Separate Ways,” “Try,” “Mexico,” and “Kansas.” Among these solo and ensemble performances, five songs, including “Love Is a Rose” (a hit for Linda Ronstadt), were recorded for the first time here but appeared on later albums. Seven are previously unreleased. The sonic quality is deeper and sharper than the lyrics of the throwaway tunes: the silly “Homegrown,” the hallucinatory spoken-word “Florida,” and the bluesy “We Don’t Smoke It No More.” But plenty of tracks—the intimate road song “White Line,” a live acoustic duet with Robbie Robertson on guitar; the raucous “Vacancy,” rocking in Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere/Tonight’s the Night grunge; and the quietly minimalist “Little Wing” and “Star of Bethlehem”—should make general listeners, not just Shakey diehards, glad that Young, who turns 75 in November 2020, got Homegrown out of his system then and out of his vaults now.

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