In June 1974, with his On The Beach album safely in the bag, Neil Young reconvened with Elliot Mazer, co-producer of Harvest and the live set Time Fades Away, to craft something that had both the commercial appeal of Harvest and the bleak intimacy of On The Beach. The backdrop was Young’s crumbling relationship with actress Carrie Snodgrass after he’d met waitress and future wife Pegi Morton.
By January 1975 the album, Homegrown, was complete. With the major-label machine cranked up and ready to go and the sleeve printed, Young, troubled by the record’s acutely personal nature, blocked its release, plumping instead for the previously shelved (to Young’s chagrin) Tonight’s The Night, itself hardly a barrel of laughs.
As Young now believes, he should have known better. Some songs were recycled and re-recorded: Love Is A Rose was a hit for Linda Ronstadt before surfacing on Decade; White Line and Little Wing appeared on Ragged Glory and Hawks & Doves respectively; the title track and Star Of Bethlehem found their way on to American Stars’N’Bars.
Now comes the original Homegrown, although other unreleased tracks from the sessions may emerge as Homefires. The familiar material remains stark and beautiful. And while White Line’s ‘That old white line is a friend of mine’ speaks for itself, Emmylou Harris is glowing on Star Of Bethlehem, and Love Is A Rose is jauntiness itself.
Of the more unfamiliar, Florida is atonal spoken-word indulgence and the interminable We Don’t Smoke It is wheeziness itself.
But there is gold to be mined from this self-lacerating despair. Vacancy is as acerbic (‘Can we pretend to live in harmony?’) as it is rocking; Separate Ways begins: ‘I won’t apologise’, and stays stubborn; the piano-led Mexico sees lost love lamented as lust is scheduled south of the border; Try offers Snodgrass fleeting hope of reconciliation; the gentle Kansas kicks like an adulterous mule: ‘It’s so good to have you sleeping by my side/Although I’m not so sureif I even know your name’.
Homegrown was strong enough to have been released in 1975 and Young is right to exhume it now. But that doesn’t mean he was necessarily wrong then. He may have been baring his soul, but he was smart enough to know just how rotten that soul had fleetingly become.