2020 – Country / Folk
After almost five decades lost, Neil Young’s Homegrown is released, and with it a set of intimate, true and simply beautiful songs reach the world, completing the singer’s artistic peak and discography.
1974 was a turbulent and extremely creative year for Neil Young. He had just finished composing and producing his great album Tonight’s the Night in 1973, which was kept in a safe for a while, and was already working on the On the Beach that would be released that year. With both albums ready and full of great songs, Young was at his artistic peak. However, a painful stone would appear in its path: his relationship with actress Carrie Snodgress was deteriorating, which caused his deep and sad feelings to invade his next songs in a way that even he himself would not quite understand how it all happened. A little later that year — 1974 — Young called on his longtime friends Crosby, Stills and Nash to work on new songs. In these sessions held at Neil’s Ranch, several deep and emotional songs emerged and have not been revealed to the world, until now. 46 years after recording, Young releases these painful remastered pieces on his album Homegrown.
Certainly, it was never revealed why Young really kept these songs in a safe for over 40 years. In reality, he was almost certain that the album would reach the world in the 1970s. A cover had already been created and Neil had scheduled a party for his closest friends to hear Homegrown, which would follow On the Beach which was released a year earlier. However, in a last moment, Young re-thought and decided to play Tonight’s the Night instead, releasing this one with his sixth album. Several rumors arose as to why the singer’s decision, however, the following year, in an interview with the Rolling Stones, he said about the album: “It was a little too personal… it scared me”. Young was still facing a painful reality and wanted as much as possible to avoid contact with her so he could move on. 40 years later he comments to a blog about the finally release of Homegrown: “Sometimes life hurts”. Yes Neil, it hurts.
Although Homegrown is not Young’s deepest, most intense, most visionary or depressing album, it remains a unique piece that could not be lost within the singer’s career history. He defined Homegrown as “This is the one that got away”. The country singer´s fortieth album is an intimate piece, full of short songs based on classic country instruments such as guitar and harmonica that do not have the premise of sounding like revolutionary units, but rather, as true units that can pass, with depth, to intimacy and feelings of its author. It is a beautiful album, without a doubt, full of complex and deep feelings that reach our ears in a simple, naked and raw way. From his peaks of depression and hopelessness to the world to the moments when he allows himself to believe in love, Neil delivered beautifully amazing songs. Maybe it was worth waiting almost 5 decades to hear these beautiful melodies that resonate like true poetry that are screamed emotionally by the soul and heart.
Right at the album opener, “Separate Ways”, he delivers the cards about his album. He sings: “I won’t apologize / The light shone from in your eyes / It isn’t gone / And it will soon come back again”. He talks about his deteriorating relationship but he still hopes that the fire will light again in the future. Throughout the Homegrown, he pursues these feelings of love, whether happiness and exactness or tragedy and sadness. Although at times he sounds a little lost in his instruments, everything here sounds beautiful. In the beginning of the song, a funeral guitar appears almost announcing a death while Young sings as if he is dead. Over time, the song grows and with the arrival of a harmonica played by himself, he seems to accept: “It’s all because of that love for you, babe / Made the world go separate ways / Separate ways / Means that we’ll go separate ways”. Again, this track is simple but it doesn’t stop it from being beautiful, deep and touching.
These sad and deep emotions that are, most of the time, transmitted by simple lines, remain throughout the album. “Mexico” has one of the shortest lyrics, but the marriage between Neil’s voice and the way he sings with the solo of a grand piano makes the track look beautiful, deep and extremely current. “Kansas”, in turn, despite having lines that show that Neil is entering a kind of romantic epiphany, much of it shows that he was in a relationship that even he didn’t quite understand: “Although I’m not so sure / If I even know your name / Hold on, baby, hold on / We can go gliding through the air / Far from the tears you’ve cried”. Finally, “Vacancy” shows an instrument a little higher and more animated, however, in the lyrics he asks “Are you my friend? Are you my enemy?” while he seems to sing with duality: in some moments, it seems that he is singing for his wife’s lover, in others, for a girl who is empty with him.
Even though much of Homegrown remains in a frightening depression, the album still has several tracks that make everyone believe in love again with sweetness, hope and peace. In “Try”, he appears hypnotized and romantic. Despite the track has some lines that deliver problematic moments, much of the music remains sweet and very charming. With the help of female vocals and a guitar, he begins: “Darlin’, the door is open / To my heart and I’ve been hopin’ / That you won’t be the one / To struggle with the key” and complete on chorus: “And I try to wash my hands (Ooh, ooh) / And I try to make amends (Ooh, ooh) / And I try to count my friends (Ooh, ooh)”. Without a doubt, “Love Is a Rose” is my favorite and the best on the album. With a pleasant, smooth and simple rhythm, Neil makes an extremely intelligent analogy with love: “Love is a rose but you better not pick it / It only grows when it’s on the vine / A handful of thorns and you’ll know you ‘ve missed it / You lose your love when you say the word mine”. In addition to being simply beautiful, the track has several elements that could easily make this track sound like a totally contemporary song.
One of the highlights of the album is Young’s writing which, despite being short and tight, always sounds deep and beautiful in its own way. “Florida” is one of the best tracks on the album. For three minutes, Young recites a tragic tale written by himself. With the annoying and uncomfortable sound — similar to the sound of scraping metal on glass or even nails on a blackboard — in the background, he initially describes and takes us to the east coast city: “There was a lot of white buildings and / They were really white, I could see them / They were about seven or eight stories tall / All the, all the people were walking around and / Just looked so good, you know”. In addition to Young really seeming to be talking to us, his charming story becomes tragic in the middle when he describes the air accident that killed a couple and left an orphaned baby. Neil says:
I noticed this couple on the, uh, on the parking lot
And, uh, they, they were just walking together in conversation, you know?
Like, uh, nothing else was happening
And, uh, looking up, they noticed the tumbling man coming through the air
And, uh, he, he came right down and landed right on them
And made an awful sound and, uh
I ran over there, I could see that they were
They were really gone, you know
Continuing on the track, he describes that he took the couple’s baby to his car and put him in the back pack and a few moments later, a woman passed by, accused him and said that it was her baby: “She said, “That’s my baby in the back of your car there” / I said, “Oh, no, no / No, that baby belongs to that, to that dead couple on the parking lot””. Several interpretations can emerge from this range, for example: the couple who suffers the accident can be the representation of the end of Young’s relationship with Snodgress. Even so, regardless of whether it has a greater meaning or not, it is already impacting in itself.
It is quite rare to find songs in Homegrown that are not worthwhile or that are really bad. The only defect here are some songs that are not as strong as others, but that does not mean that they are not yet striking poetry in their own way. “We Don’t Smoke It No More”, which was recorded during New Year’s Eve, is the weakest on the album. For four minutes we are entertained by guitar strings, a possible banjo and subtle cymbal beats. The problem is not even the fact that the track is almost entirely instrumental, but the lyrics that don’t really make sense here. Despite being short and fast, Neil’s tiring repetitions (“We don’t smoke it no more”) end up breaking a little with the fluidity of the track, so this would work best only with the subtle sound. “Little Wing”, despite its excellent guitar and harmonica solo, appears with another one of the weakest ones due to his lyrics that cannot get a full message due to its exacerbated simplicity.
Fortunately, Homegrown shows not only a man’s decline, but also his recovery. The title track of the album is one of the most delightful to hear. While Neil works the Country/Folk in the rawest and most frank way, he sings with clarity and purity in a classic rhythm, very used but that never gets tired: “Homegrown is a good thing / Plant that bell and let it ring”. “White Line” can be summarized in two lines: “I saw some things that I never would have guessed / Well I’ve been down but I’m comin ‘back up again”. Touched entirely by fine and occasional notes of a viola, Young shows herself as a man who has been through a lot, has matured and, now that daylight arrives, has a new understanding. In the end, He starts “Star of Bethlehem” singing about when his face finally comes to light: “Ain’t it hard when you wake up in the morning / And you find out that those other days are gone?”. With the help of a female choir, a guitar and harmonica and a simple and beautiful lyric, he builds the last track not based on his suffering, but on his hope.
Finally, Homegrown is not Neil’s best album, but it still has an undeniably unique nature. The songs here are not great tracks of 7 minutes or more that use synthesizers to prove themselves as great intimate testimonies, but rather small folk tales which have a young hippie hero as their protagonist. A unique adventure that makes us all want to live in the 70s. But clearly this is not possible, but at least we have these songs that take us to the time of the open road.