Homegrown review by Neil Young: a deeply personal album lost

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There is not a corner of Neil Young’s long career that has not been enlightened. The subject of several books (of which he has written two himself), numerous concert films and documentaries, Young has also launched a re-edition campaign almost as aggressive as that of Bob Dylan, with at least one archive release each year. . Which does Homegrown more intriguing and potentially more revealing than last year’s live Tuscaloosa or live-in-the-studio 2018 Hitchhiker.Homegrown is an album of songs recorded in the early 1970s, when he was still acclimatizing to his new celebrity, but he removed it from the release schedule on the grounds that it was “too personal.” Since then, rumors of the album’s existence have swirled among Young’s die-hard fans, giving him a burst of legend. It has become legendary, like El Dorado or the buried treasure of Forest Fenn in the Rockies. Homegrown never existed as a bootleg. It was never sold under the counter in record stores like Dylan’s. Great white wonder or the Stones ” Live more than ever. It was also not passed on to band sellers like every Dead or Panic show. In fact, so little is known about this lost record that even Jimmy McDonough, author of the 2002 biography, Shakey, could only speculate on its content. There was no official tracklist until April 2020, when Young announced that he was finally releasing it, almost 50 years late.

Restored and remastered using analog equipment, this version of Homegrown is, said Young, “the missing link between Harvest, There comes a time, Old ways, and Harvest moon. The most important instruments are his grainy voice, his acoustic guitar and his lively harmonica; he plays the piano on “Mexico”, a fragile and fleeting reverie of a song. When accompanied, it’s by a small group of friendly players, including Emmylou Harris, Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson. The atmosphere is moderate and thoughtful, revealing an artist enduring loss and confusion. Even the handful of electrified songs – like “Vacancy,” with its stuttering shuffle and abraded guitar blows – still seem sweet, more ruminative than rowdy.

The album is “personal” in a way that is still fairly new to Young, who has been notoriously protected from his privacy. This is perhaps the biggest selling point for fans looking to fill the gaps in one of its most tumultuous periods. But what makes Homegrown the staff also make it powerful and intimate, which means it should appeal more, not less, to casual fans who might not know where it fits into its catalog.

Like Dylan in the 1960s, Neil Young disappeared from the early to mid-1970s, at the height of his popularity. Instead of a motorcycle accident, however, he had a cataclysmic reaction to the 1972 success. Harvest, who turned him from a cult artist into a star on par with his heroes. As he told Bud Scoppa in a 1975 Creem “I just didn’t think I was the lonely figure with a guitar or whatever trip people sometimes see me like. I didn’t feel laid back – I didn’t feel that way. So I thought I would forget all about it and … erase it. “So in 1973 he followed Harvest with an emotionally corroded recording called On the beach and spent too much time Travel to the past, his directorial beginnings (under the name of Bernard Shakey) who blurred the border between documentary and fantasy. It was a colossal flop at the box office.

Young’s life at the time seemed to be out of his control, not only creatively but romantically. Her relationship with Carrie Snodgress was falling apart. The two started dating in 1970 after seeing her in the film Diary of a mad housewife and was immediately struck. They were quickly inseparable, and she gave up a promising acting career – she got an Oscar nomination for Personal diary – take care of their son Zeke, born with cerebral palsy. But the demands of his new family plagued Young and took him away from a career he was not ready to give up. They officially separated in 1975, but he was already emotionally separated from Snodgress and their child.

To give you an idea of ​​personal character Homegrown was at Young, consider this: when he removed it from the release schedule, he replaced it with Tonight is evening, a rough and messy album full of first take voices that don’t care about the pitch and grooves that sound like they’re falling apart. Young himself called it a “horror record.” It was inspired by the deaths of two close friends and collaborators, Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie / jamming buddy Bruce Barry, both of whom were overdosed on heroin. He was created in the throes of deep pain, before Young dealt with the loss and went through his grief. If none of the songs can offer catharsis or hope, it is because it is not there yet.

But there are many types of personnel. Tonight remains anchored in the world of rock and roll and addresses the tragedies of his fellow musicians and travelers. Homegrown confronts realities far from this area, Young presenting himself as a partner and a failed father: an injured man instead of an offensive rock star. Maybe he wasn’t ready to get rid of that canvas between him and his audience, or maybe he just didn’t want to live with those songs every night for the next year. Unless you are Fleetwood Mac, separation albums are usually one-sided affairs, allowing the artist to tell a story but generally giving no voice to the spouse or lover. Undertaken without responsibility, they can be incredibly selfish projects, especially when the significant other is not as important a figure. Snodgress may have been a promising actress, but she didn’t have the same platform to tell her story or an audience to hear it.

This makes the songs apart Homegrown a sound much more careful and unexpected generosity. Young’s first words on the album are “I want to apologize,” and he recognizes the love they shared and the forces that separated them. There is no blame, only something like gratitude for her beauty and something like grief for her loss. On “Try”, whose loping rhythm belies his dark subject, he even spices up his words with quoted phrases from Snodgress: “I would like to try my luck, but shit, Mary, I can’t dance. It’s like he’s trying to give her a voice in these songs, let her hold him accountable. A son Tonight is evening, it looks like he is writing to find closure and perhaps redemption, but neither lives in any of these songs. The music therefore seems raw and immediate – always powerful with a heartache.

This split is just one of the many topics that Young addresses. Homegrown. Or, to put it another way: this album places this break in the context of Young’s wider life as a musician, as a nomad, as a potty enthusiast. “White Line”, a noisy acoustic number with Young who accompanies the harmonica, can be addressed to a lover, apparently Snodgress, but it is rather the road that takes him away from the house and brings him back to reluctantly. “This old road is a friend of mine, and it’s been a good time we have known,” he sings, as if admitting an affair. “Right now, I’m thinking about these things that I know, but the light of day will soon rise. “He comforts himself in travel, tours, in the almost constant transience that has become his life, but wonders if it is not too much.

It’s an album full of things that may offer too much comfort, whether it’s a woman, the road or the grass. “We Don’t Smoke It No More” is a mainly instrumental vamp featuring bluesy slide guitar licks by Ben “Longgrain” Keith and a barilhouse piano by Stan Szelest, while the title song sounds more like a psychedelic hoedown by the busy rhythm section of Karl T. Himmel and Tim Drummond – two longtime young collaborators. In themselves, these songs may sound facetious on such a heavy record, but they betray the suspicion that a joint and a bottle of tequila offer only the illusion of an escape. Such a conflict is not in the lyrics of the songs, which are largely harmless, but in the quality of Young’s voice. He seems more defensive than exuberant, more melancholy than euphoric – as if another toke could be a burden.

Eccentric songwriter, he finds poetry in simple language and draws new ideas from familiar metaphors. “Love Is A Rose”, based on an earlier song called “Dance Dance Dance”, should sound as saccharine as its title suggests. But that surprises you, makes you listen a little more closely while Young thinks about the possessiveness of a lover: “Love is a rose but it is better not to pick it / It only grows when it is on the vine, “he sings. “A handful of thorns and you know you missed it / Lose your love when you say the word” mine “. Rather than dark and serious (like, for example, “La Rose” by Bette Midler), the arrangement is loose and lively, even light, like Young joshes’ guitar with Tim Drummond’s right bass. The song is disarming in its non-serious sweetness, as if they compose it as you go along.

Despite everything, Young sounds adrift on these songs, forever stuck in an inescapable moment of sorrow, seeking comfort but never finding it. He’s in the middle of his story with no resolution in sight, which makes the outlier Homegrown conceptually intriguing sound to say the least. “Florida” is a verbal hike, a bit of stoned studio chatter: Young tells either a dream or the memory of an incident involving a hang glider crashing into a building and a woman facing him about a stolen baby , its only accompaniment the noise of someone running his wet finger along the edge of a glass. The track stops abruptly, leaving you wondering what the point is or why it is even here. But the point of the track can be its own uselessness, its own retention of any conclusion. You find yourself scratching your head, trying to make sense of it – what seems to be Young’s constant state on this album.

Many of these songs have found their way to fans in one form or another. “Love Is A Rose” was covered by Linda Ronstadt on her own 1975 album, Disguised prisoner, and Young included this version in his 1977 triple album career retrospective Decade. “Star Of Bethlehem” ended on American Stars ‘N’ Bars that same year, and strangely enough, the words “Florida” were even printed in the notes Tonight is evening.

Aspects of this album may already be somewhat familiar to listeners, but these songs sound like being reborn in this context, where they convey a particular sadness that is unique to this album. Homegrown stands out in Young’s catalog. In fact, it has lived up to the legend that has surrounded it for a long time. Although not as hot as Harvest, nor as hurt as Tonight is evening, nor as conceptual as Zuma, it has its own atmosphere, its own set of concerns, its own collection of pains to treat. And perhaps most importantly, Homegrown is good enough to make you wonder what could have happened if Young had published it as planned. We would mention it in the same breath as these classic albums, and songs like “White Line” and “Separate Ways” would take their place on the biggest hits and live albums.

Overall, however, Young’s long career form probably would not have changed, probably because he quickly went through this phase of mourning and came to something like peace with his alienation from Snodgress. And maybe that’s why he made the decision to hold Homegrown back: Writing and recording these personal songs had helped him make sense of this crisis, which meant they didn’t represent him as they did, at least not in this configuration. In other words, there is still mystery in this well-chronicled figure.

Homegrown was released on 6/19.

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