Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Neil Young - Homegrown

Neil Young – Homegrown

(soniclovenoize reconstruction)

Side A:

1.  Homegrown

2.  Little Wing

3.  The Old Homestead

4.  Love is a Rose

5.  Love Art Blues

Side B:

6.  Star of Bethlehem

7.  Give Me Strength

8.  Deep Forbidden Lake

9.  Pardon My Heart

10.  White Line

Happy Valentine’s Day!  What better way to celebrate this day of romance than with an album all about the loss of love and its effects thereafter!  This is a reconstruction of the unreleased Neil Young album Homegrown, the subdued and acoustic album primarily about Young’s separation from his wife Carrie Snodgress.  Originally meant to be released in 1975 as the proper follow-up to On The Beach, it was shelved in favor of the more electric and immediate Tonight’s The Night, never to see the light of day.  Since most of the recordings reported to have been featured on Homegrown are not available to listeners, this reconstruction attempts to compile all available songs that were at least recorded during the Homegrown sessions in order to present an approximate facsimile of what Homegrown could have sounded like; luckily there is just enough to make a ten-song album.  All songs have been volume-adjusted for continuity and album cohesion.

Neil Young has always been a man on the edge, a troubadour who embraced his inner-turmoil.  This was a characteristic that informed his music and ensured a long-lasting artistic integrity.  Presented with mainstream success that outshined his previous musical outlets with several hits from his 1972 album Harvest, Neil Young choose to intentionally follow-up the album’s commercial acoustics with more abrasive and difficult material to challenge his newly horizoned audience.  The subsequent albums were called “The Ditch Trilogy”, formed by 1973’s Time Fades Away, 1974’s On The Beach and 1975’s Tonight’s The Night.  All three projects shared the theme of loss and how Young dealt with it emotionally, as Young lost three of his closest confidants in the course of making the albums.  But “The Ditch Trilogy” is a misnomer, as it should have been the Ditch Tetralogy: the fourth and final recorded project during Young’s turbulent 1972-1975 era remained in his vault, as it not only was too personal, but the sound of the album was too reminiscent of Harvest, the album he strove to shy away from.  Regardless, it is the quintessential Ditch album, the final word of that era, although it was never actually heard. 

After being fired from Crazy Horse years earlier, Young had given guitarist Danny Whitten a second chance with a rhythm guitar spot in his backing band The Stray Gators for the upcoming Harvest Tour.  Unable to perform competently due to his rampant alcoholism and heroin addiction, Young fired Whitten a second time.  Within 24 hours, Whitten was dead, overdosed on alcohol and Valium.  The effect on Young was immense, as he felt he was responsible for Whitten’s death.  The initial outcome was Time Fades Away, recorded live on the subsequent tour, mere months after Whitten’s death.  The sloppy sound of anguish and denial—an artist in mourning with an inebriated backing band—Young has since regretted the album, possibly due to the sound quality of the album, recorded live by very early digital technology.  Time Fades Away exists solely as a document of this troubled time in Young’s career, which was only strengthened by an additional subtext of the tour: Young was growing apart from his wife Carrie Snodgress, the muse of his Harvest.  The freedoms of a rock star’s wife did not seem to gel with the pressures of a grieving and overbooked rock star, and the two became distant.

A brief interlude from the turmoil occurred as a hopeful writing and recording session with a reunited Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in mid-1973, resulting in the genesis of the Human Highway project (which was also reconstructed on this author’s blog).  Unfortunately, a second casualty temporarily ceased the project, as Neil Young and CSNY’s long-time roadie Bruce Berry overdosed on heroin, a habit that was introduced to him by none other than Danny Whitten.  Leaving Crosby, Stills and Nash to their own battling egos, Young recorded possibly the rawest and most anguished recording of the 1970s, Tonight’s The Night, between August and September.  A painful ode to both Whitten and Berry, the album was perhaps too raw and Young sat on the completed recording for the remainder of the year while road-testing the material, toying with the mixing and sequence, finding the best way to release the album.  This cathartic tour for a soon-to-be-released record became a stereotype for rock band excess, and as Snodgress later recollected, was the beginning of the end of her marriage with Young. 

With a more-or-less completed album in his back pocket and a slew of even newer songs, Young returned to the studio in February 1974 and recorded the third of his Ditch Trilogy, On The Beach.  While more refined than the previous Ditch albums, anguish still loomed over the songs while still soaked by the drug excess of the previous year’s tour.  With Young both emotionally and physically absent, the lonely and hungry eye of the rock star’s wife looked in other directions; surely he had taken other lovers while on the road, why couldn’t Carrie?  As the album was being released, Young's realization that Snodgress had been cheating on him unleashed a flurry of new songs about their disintegrating relationship and the break-up of their family.  Young was given a surprise opportunity to road-test his new material with a re-reunited CSN&Y, on a much-hyped national tour through the rest of 1974 that the band later called “The Doom Tour”.  During rehearsals for the tour, Young recorded one of his new laments, “Pardon My Heart”, as well as an acoustic backstage duet with The Band’s Robbie Robertson on another of his new compositions “White Line”. 

The miserable CSNY tour ended that fall, and in November Young went into Quadrafonic Sound Studios in Nashville to capture the heartbroken ballads he had written about Snodgress, including “Star of Bethlehem” and “Frozen Man”.  Temporarily returning home to his ranch, Young found Carrie with her lover and he kicked her out; it was officially over.  After this heart-crushing break from the recording sessions, Young returned to Quadrafonic in December, tracking a number of bleak yet razor-sharp songs of romantic despair that seemed to balance between western-tinged, full-band renditions and solo acoustic performances, some also tracked at his home studio Broken Arrow.  Songs recorded during these sessions include: “Separate Ways”, “Love is a Rose”, “Love Art Blues”, “Homefires”, “The Old Homestead”, “Deep Forbidden Lake”, “Homegrown”, “We Don’t Smoke It”, “Vacancy”, “Try” and “Give Me Strength.”  In January 1975, final recordings for this new project, now called Homegrown, were tracked in LA at The Village Recorder, including “Little Wing”, “Kansas”, “Mexico” and “Florida.”  The exact tracklist of Homegrown was never published but it is believed to include any number of the aforementioned 17 songs from the Quadrafonic, Broken Arrow and Village Recorder sessions, as well as “Pardon My Heart” and “White Line” recorded during The Doom Tour. 

While Young was uncertain about releasing Homegrown because of its brutal honesty (he even claimed he couldn’t sit through the entire album), the label was excited for Young’s return to a more delicate sound after his recent abrasive albums.  In typical Neil Young fashion, that was never to be.  In the oft-repeated story, Young previewed Homegrown to a party of friends; after the album finished, the rough cut of Tonight’s The Night—still unreleased from 1973's work—played afterwards.  More impressed by the later work, The Band bassist Rick Danko suggested to release Tonight’s The Night instead of Homegrown.  And that is exactly what Young did that June of 1975 and Homegrown as it’s completed album has never been heard outside a select few.  

Only a handful of the various songs from the Homegrown sessions have been released over the years, wetting fan’s appetites for what was purported to be Neil Young’s strongest and most emotionally vulnerable album.  Many have tried to reconstruct Homegrown, but the truth is that not only do we not know the official tracklist, but less than half of the material is even available to us officially or even unofficially!  Young himself only recently performed some of the material live for the first time, in recent decades.  In an effort to retain the best possible soundquality and historical accuracy, my reconstruction of Homegrown will focus only on recordings dating from the mid 1970s, as well as only studio or soundboard recordings.  With this criteria, that reduces the number of available songs to ten, which luckily is enough to make a complete album.  While not precisely the mythical Homegrown, this could be viewed as an approximation culled from the Homegrown sessions, what the album might have sounded like.

The album begins with the title track, “Homegrown”.  For the actual unreleased album, the recording would have been more downbeat and probably Western; since that recording is unavailable, we’ll use the Crazy Horse re-recording dating from November 1975, from the album American Stars n Bars.  Next is the delicate “Little Wing” and majestic “The Old Homestead”, both taken from Hawks and Doves.  Somber “Love is a Rose” from Decade follows, with Side A concluding with “Love Art Blues”; while the unheard Homegrown album version was probably a solo acoustic recording, here we will use the slick full-band Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young live recording from CSNY 1974.  Side B opens with “Star of Bethlehem” from American Stars n Bars.  The studio “Give Me Strength” allegedly sounded much like the eerie “Will To Love”; since unavailable, we will use a live recording from 1976, taken from the GF Rust Chrome Dreams bootleg.  Following is the exquisite “Pardon My Heart” from Zuma and “Deep Forbidden Lake” from Decades.  The Homegrown album version of “White Line” would have been an acoustic duo with Robbie Robertson; since unavailable, we will end the album as it began, with the Crazy Horse re-recording from November 1975, taken from the GF Rush Chrome Dreams bootleg.  

Sources Used:

Neil Young - American Stars n Bars (2003 Reprise CD remaster)

Neil Young – Chrome Dreams (bootleg, 2008 Godfather Records)

Neil Young – Decade (original CD pressing)

Neil Young – Hawks and Doves (2003 Reprise Recerds CD remaster)

Neil Young – Zuma (1993 CD remaster)

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – CSNY 1974 (2014 CD box set)

flac --> wav --> editing in SONAR and Goldwave --> flac encoding via TLH lv8
*md5, artwork and tracknotes included