Neil Young, Homegrown (Reprise Records)

Neil Young has to be fucking crazy to have not released this in 1975. “Shakey” indeed, if we’re going by his nickname. The excuses just don’t add up at all. “It was too dark, maaannn.” Really? It’s certainly not anywhere near as dark as Tonight’s The Night or On The Beach from that same era, and much of the record is absolutely breezy and chipper like an 80 degree LA winter day. “Try”, for example, could very well have been a radio hit with Emmylou’s eternally sweet vocals and it’s lilting, almost jazzy melodies. “Mexico” is just classic ’70s Neil, a wandering acoustic fantasy about running off to its namesake, with that clear-eyed, searching tone that only Young could patent right up until 1980-or-so. “Silly” and “Neil Young” aren’t two things that often fit into the same sentence, but the jam “We Don’t Smoke It No More” is just that, and is instantly the funnest song in his official catalog with this album’s 46-year-delayed release. The same goes for the easy rolling title track, on which you can just about smell the hash oil, presented here in a much free-er sounding form than it would later take on American Stars N Bars. And then there’s “Florida”, already a legendary lost track for any true Neil-head, which more than lives up to its long mystery shadow. It rambles. It almost falls flat on its face, then recovers. It walks a tight rope between stoned-hippie- clunky-chord-busker-ramblings and true greatness, tilting to one side and the other and back again. It’s supposed to be a story but it makes no sense, which makes it all the better. I’ve listened to “Florida” dozens of times since this dropped. Often I hate it. More often it gives me chills. But it always has an effect. One of Young’s greatest ever songs, “Love Is A Rose”, is buried on the back end, tossed off like an afterthought but ripe as the fattest apple on the tree. “I wanna see what’s never been seen / I wanna live that age old dream”. It’s Young at his most romantic, and it’s undeniably catchy. Of course it wouldn’t be a Neil Young ’70s record without a couple of harrowing dread ballads, and we get them in the form of the bare bones, bleary-eyed “White Line” and the darkest night of the darkest soul, “Little Wing”, which reads like a suicide letter. Unlike many of Young’s ’70s records, even the best ones, Homegrown holds together well as a selection of songs, with the upbeat numbers broken up nicely by acoustic strummers and ballads, making for his most cohesive and engaging work of his entire career. It only took Shakey about 50 years to realize it.