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Neil Young's Homegrown Is Well Worth the Wait

Neil Young released his long-shelved album Homegrown on June 19.
Neil Young released his long-shelved album Homegrown on June 19. DH Lovelife
In March, Neil Young launched Fireside Sessions, a live-streamed series from his home in the Rockies, where he lives with wife Daryl Hannah, who filmed the videos. During the first session, a six-set acoustic set, Young performed his song “Little Wing” solo for the first time.

While the track was on Young’s 1980 album Hawks & Doves, it was first recorded in 1975 and slated to drop on Homegrown that same year — but Young canceled the release. For the past four and a half decades, Homegrown sat shelved, achieving legendary status among Young fans along the way. Young says the album is the unheard bridge between Harvest and Comes a Time.

He finally decided to release Homegrown, which was recorded between 1974 and ’75 in studios in California, Nashville and London, on Friday, June 19, on his longtime label, Reprise.

"I apologize,” Young wrote in a letter kept by the Neil Young Archives. "This album Homegrown should have been there for you a couple of years after Harvest. It's the sad side of a love affair. The damage done. The heartache. I just couldn't listen to it. I wanted to move on. So, I kept it to myself, hidden away in the vault, on the shelf, in the back of my mind...but I should have shared it. It's actually beautiful. That's why I made it in the first place. Sometimes life hurts. You know what I mean. Anyway, it's coming your way in 2020, the first release from our archive in the new decade."

Young's right. Homegrown is a beautiful album. Many of the songs are relaxed, deliberate, and have the intimate feel of his recent Fireside Sessions, even though he’s got a band of friends backing him up (steel guitarist Ben Keith, bassist Tim Drummond and pianist Stan Szelest) as well as the Band’s Levon Helm, who plays on Homegrown’s first two songs, “Separate Ways” and “Try’” — the latter one of two tracks with gorgeous harmonies from Emmylou Harris.

The Band’s Robbie Robertson plays guitar on “White Line,” a song Young would later redo, giving the original acoustic ballad from Homegrown a ramped-up, distorted-guitar Crazy Horse treatment on 1990's Ragged Glory.

While Young recorded last year’s Crazy Horse album Colorado in Telluride with guitarist Nils Lofgren, much of Homegrown’s focus is on Young’s vocals and acoustic guitar, and much warmer than the rowdy work he’s done with Crazy Horse, save for “Vacancy” and the title cut, which Young would remake in a much grittier fashion on 1977’s American Stars ’n Bars.

While “White Line,” “Little Wing” and the title song would have different lives after they were initially recorded for Homegrown, other songs were re-recorded as well, like "Love Is a Rose,” which later appeared on Decade, and "Star of Bethlehem,” which would end up on American Stars ’n Bars.

Nearly half of the dozen songs on Homegrown haven’t been released until now, including “Florida,” an avant-garde spoken word/narration song where Young and Keith play wine glasses and piano strings. In some ways, the song feels like a bizarre detour from the other tracks on the album, but it also gives insight into the experiments Young would try in the studio.

As Young puts it, Homegrown is “the one that got away.” Now that it’s finally been released after four and a half decades, the album serves as a splendid time capsule that was well worth the wait.
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon