Neil Young's "Long Lost Masterpiece" Homegrown Released 45 Years Later

Billed by his label as a “long lost masterpiece by Neil Young”, referred to by fans as “one of Young’s mysterious, great ‘lost albums’” and described by Young himself as “the one that got away”, Homegrown was recorded mostly between late 1974 and early ’75, with one track from late spring ‘74 and another from late summer of that year.

In a letter posted on Neil Young Archives, he writes that the album “…should have been there for you a couple of years after Harvest”. He adds, “ It's the sad side of a love affair (his breakup with actress Carrie Snodgress). 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."

While the album is a new release, other versions of 5 of the 12 songs—“Love Is a Rose”, “Homegrown”, “White Line”, “Little Wing”, and “Star of Bethlehem”—have found their way onto other Young albums: “Love is a Rose” (covered by Linda Ronstadt) on the Decade compilation, “Star of Bethlehem” and the title tune “Homegrown” —a celebration of homegrown weed—on American Stars ‘n Bars, “White Line” on Ragged Glory and “Little Wing”, which opens Hawks and Doves (and sounds like the same version here).

Leaving aside the already familiar songs, if you are expecting a masterpiece of the “relationship” genre like Joni Mitchell’s Blue, you will be disappointed. However, for Neil fans interested in hearing him wallow throughout in his break-up misery, you won’t get that either.

Instead, the album comes across more as something cobbled together more recently than as one sitting on the shelf for 45 years—and not because of the recording time spread or the various recording venues. It shares that with Harvest.

Side one begins heavily in melancholic break-up mode with “Separate Ways” and “Try”. Ben Keith’s crying pedal steel and Levon Helm’s familiar under-tuned “mopey” drums providing the ideal backdrop; both songs beautifully recorded at Elliot Mazer’s Nashville Quadraphonic Studios on 12/11/1974.

On the short “Mexico”, Young on piano explains to his son Zeke and seeking to explain in part the break-up with mother Carrie, that his father’s a traveling man.

The familiar “Love is A Rose” follows and the album veers off course with the low key, celebratory original recording of “Homegrown”. Next comes the inexplicable inclusion of a drunk/stoned Young “narration” about gliders flying around Florida accompanied by rubbed wine glasses and piano strings. The side ends with “Kansas”, a short solo guitar-backed rebound song and no dust in the wind.

Side two opens with the bluesy/boozy “We Don’t Smoke It No More” recorded back home a few weeks after Young had recorded in Nashville his celebratory weed title tune. Here he swears off everything but who believes him? The “cobbled together” vibe strikes here.

Young recorded “White Line” at The Who’s Ramport Studios in London where Supertramp recorded the exceptional-sounding Crime of the Century. You wouldn’t expect audio enthusiast Young to record away from home in a crappy studio would you? Robbie Robertson’s unmistakable mournful guitar backup adds poignancy to a song about trying to get one’s life back on track. It’s among the album’s highlights.

Finally, on side two’s third track Young drops his sadness and his regret to lash out on the bitter “Vacancy” (about his ex’s eyes not a motel room). Most of us have had this post-break up experience. Young thought better of sharing it and hasn’t until now.

On “Little Wing” a bird flies away and we know to what that refers. The album ends with the familiar “Star of Bethlehem” wherein Young can look back on his relationship with happy memories replacing side one’s opening misery and “Vacancy”’s hostility. Emmylou Harris adds background vocals.

In retrospect it’s understandable both that Neil Young chose to not release this album 45 years ago, and to release some of these tunes on other albums either as originally recorded or re-imagined. They are too good to leave locked in the vault.

Realistically speaking, Homegrown is neither a “masterpiece”, nor a “cash grab” (as my friend Malachi likes to call some issues and reissues he doesn’t like). Instead, it’s a worthwhile addition that fills a small but significant gap in Neil Young’s rich, rewarding catalog. Long lost album found.

One thing is not in doubt here and that’s the absolutely stunning Harvest—quality LP sound.

Young is not hyping when he writes “This is the one that got away, recorded in analog and mastered to vinyl from the original master tapes, restored with love and care by John Hanlon. This album, in vinyl, displays the beauty, feeling and depth of music recorded in the analog domain, before digital. It's the perfect example of why I can't forget how good music used to sound. Although it still sounds very good in digital, it's worth buying a phonograph just to hear this and the other great vinyl archive releases we are making for posterity continuously at NYA. These are the best. Come with use into 2020 as we bring the past.”

I give both Young’s comment and the sound of this record, beautifully pressed at Record Industry in Haarlem, The Netherlands a solid 10! I hate to write this but I will: Homegrown is worth buying (which I did, no promo) if just for the sound, though of course there’s more here than just great sound. While I wouldn’t say this about some of his more recent new releases, this one is a definite “must have” for Neil fans. (The Record Store Day edition included a print of Tom Wilkes' cover art). "For Carrie" on the back jacket dedicates the album to the late actress and fully closes the wound 45 years later.

Music Direct Buy It Now

Drummer's picture

I think you might enjoy these articles about some of the gear and process used to record Neil.

and this.

Finally, "under tuned and mopey" ? ... oh no no no.... the people do not abide such language about the beloved Levon. Earthy, dry, plain by choice, rhythmically rooted in old time r&b grooves and beer soaked .... maybe. The Band wouldn't be The Band if the drums were all fancy pants jacked up and pretty.

Thanks for a nice review.

Michael Fremer's picture
I just thought his playing was perfect here: and
Drummer's picture

Happy you appreciate Levon!

Glotz's picture

I am still waiting for this one to show up this weekend with the Stones' half-speed masters and 50th Let It Bleed, but I am sure you absolutely nailed the feel of this LP. (The 'cobbled together sections I'm guessing refer to around time he 'went Reagan', albeit for simple, humble reasons, and I imagine how it feels.)

I also got the "mopey" reference to Helm's drumming. I don't see that as a value statement either, just applying descriptive language to tone or timing.

You always pick great LP's to review.... Great taste! Less filler! And thank you for the education and backstory, as always.

Can't wait for this one!

cher143's picture

I happened upon an April RSD "unreleased" copy, since there was no April RSD. It just happens to have a poster of the cover inside. Cool. Good album from my favorite days of Neil. Also, I happened to see Levon and his band at one of his Rambles held at his barn in Woodstock, NY. Whew! What a night. What a drummer!

Chemguy's picture

Oh my goodness, the sonics are perfection!...or at least a 10/11. I listened to the record three times since release day on NYA and thought it sounded great. But the vinyl is an ear-popping pleasure.

As for the 7 you gave the music, Michael, fair enough for now. But repeated listens should produce a two point elevation, as it did for me. That stupid Florida will become stoopid, and We Don’t Smoke it will be as appetizing as T-Bone.

Michael Fremer's picture
sometimes happens....and occasionally goes the other way too!
eugeneharrington's picture

I was open to buying this ...until I heard that 'mess' of a track 'Florida'. Neil didn't have the good sense to put it as the final track on Side One either. That would have enabled me to spring from my listening position and raise the arm to prevent it playing that load of trash. Honestly, what was he thinking? No, it's a deal breaker for me.

Intermediate Listener's picture

would have been even better!

zimmer74's picture

try sitting through nine minutes of "The Last Trip to Tulsa" on his first solo album...

Intermediate Listener's picture

Sounds reminiscent of I Knew these People on Ry Cooder’s Paris, Texas soundtrack: nearly 9 minutes of excruciating movie dialogue, also the next to last cut on the side. Ruins an otherwise wonderful album.

Tom L's picture

with "something".
This LP contains several gems but was obviously never completed.
(TL pats himself on the back for commenting on the correct story.)

analogdw's picture

Ha ha

Paul Boudreau's picture

Just got mine, listening will need to wait until the new Nitty Gritty Record Master comes in later this week (the previous one died in a puff of smoke last weekend). Speaking of that sort of thing, I assume you all also bought the rolling papers?

Paul Boudreau's picture

I don’t smoke anything but just couldn’t resist, given that Uncle Neil is known as an old hippie with a sense of humor.

swimming1's picture

I fell asleep several times trying to listen to this.I think he was a junkie when these were recorded and it sounds it. Chet