Initially scheduled for release in 1975 but shelved and replaced by Tonight’s the Night because Homegrown was “a little too personal” for Neil at the time is now being released. With legendary musicians, Levon Helm (The Band) and Emmylou Harris featuring on Homegrown; fans will undoubtedly be expecting another Harvest style classic.
With track titles “We Don’t Smoke it” and “Homegrown” and lyrics including “Homegrown is a good thing. Plant that bell and let it ring”; one could be mistaken into thinking this is a chilled and laid back LP. However, this album was cut in late 1974 and early 1975 just as Young’s relationship with girlfriend Carrie Snodgress (who Young had a son with) was coming to a painful end and “was (therefore) just a very down album.”
Opening with “Separate Ways”, the melancholic acoustic guitar with lap steel sets a sorrowful atmosphere which is intensified as Neil sings “Though we go our separate ways. Lookin’ for better days. Sharin’ our little boy, Who grew from joy back then…”. Neil as a pained and vulnerable person rather than the confident stadium rocker is revealed to the world. “Try”, albeit more melodic owing to the semi upbeat piano still permeates an unhappy Neil who has lost his confidence concerning emotional relationships and riddles with anxiety singing “I’d like to take a chance. But shit, Mary, I can’t dance. So here’s to lookin’ up your old address. Golly what a mess”.
“Mexico”, with beautiful naked guitar, continues to tell the story of a sad Neil which leads into the harmonica led “Love is a Rose”. “Love is a Rose” is actually not that new and first appeared on Young’s first greatest hits compilation LP Decade in 1977 but is actually much better placed on Homegrown where Neil sings using a poignant metaphor to describe that it is ill-fated to claim ownership of love.
With the exceptions of “Homegrown” and the ebullient boogie-woogie, rock and blues led “We Don’t Smoke it”; Homegrown is the story of an emotionally sad man stuck in a rut. Whilst these sad feelings are undoubtedly transferred to the listener, the underlying tranquil, quiescent soundtrack is reassuring and affirming, allowing one to digest even the most painful and unsettling of lyrics such as “All your dreams and your lovers won’t protect you. They’re only passing through you in the end. They’ll leave you stripped of all that they can get to. And wait for you to come back again…” from playout track “Star of Bethlehem” (which also made its debut on Decade).
The few exceptions to the overall tranquil soundtrack of Homegrown are as discussed include “We Don’t Smoke it”, the soft electric guitar-led “Homegrown” but also the heaviest and rockiest guitar track on Homegrown, “Vacancy” and “Florida” which is the most haunting song of all. Across “Florida” Young narrates a terrifying story about a lost baby whose parents are both dead as someone runs their finger across the rim of a glass. To those who easily succumb to trepidation; don’t listen at night or with the lights turned off.
Tonight’s the Night recorded previously in 1973 and released in Homegrown’s place is worlds apart from this release for Homegrown in many respects is an extension of the Harvest sound. Tonight’s the Night (with songs including “World on a String”, “Come on Baby Let’s Go Downtown” and “Lookout Joe”) is a faster, heavier, and more upbeat record where Young’s confidence and serotonin levels are much higher. For example in “New Mama” Young sings about his internal joy how “Mama’s got a son in her eyes. No clouds are in my changing skies. Each morning, when I get up to rise I’m livin’ in a dreamland”. Neil’s confidence with the ladies is also in a better place when compared to Homegrown’s “Try”. In 1975 releasing Tonight’s the Night (with songs including “Mellow My Mind” covered by Simply Red) proved to be the correct move for Young; however, the Homegrown LP wins hands down as an intimate and vulnerable portrait of Neil Young.