Filled with uncertainty in 1975, Neil Young called together a group of friends for a listening session to review his next potential release. The candidates in question were Tonight’s the Night and Homegrown. Rough and ragged, the former won, leaving the latter on the shelf for the next 45 years. Over time the album has taken on a near mythical status, especially since it has never been bootlegged. Now that Homegrown has finally been released, It can be heard for what it really is, a solid but flawed work from an artist who thrives on exposing his failings for all the world to see.

Five songs have been previously released, so patient Neil Young fans are not like Dylanologists trawling through the garbage trying to parse lyrics scattered amongst the table scraps. This is a much more civilized affair. The other seven appear for the first time. Taken together they paint a picture of an artist working through his feelings over a marriage on the rocks and a life that had lost a good bit of its luster.

Listening to Homegrown the picture of Young that emerges is a man going into battle against himself. Right off the bat, Carrie Snodgress, the Oscar-nominated actress who gave up a promising career to raise their son, is given the benefit of the doubt on “Separate Ways.” Opening with an acoustic guitar caught in mid strum, it sets the stage for an attempt to look beyond the tears, “I won’t apologize/ The light shone in your eyes/ It isn’t gone/ It will soon come back again.

By the time Young gets to “Mexico” there’s not a lot left to do except move on. Alone and unadorned, the piano plays with a melodic melancholy he’s internalized, “Oh, the feeling’s gone/ Why is it so hard to hang on/ To your love/ Oh the things we do.” Following up with “Love is A Rose,” there isn’t exactly closure, but at least there’s a state of acceptance about his situation.

From the man who wrote “Cinnamon Girl” and “Old Laughing Lady,” “We Don’t Smoke It” seems incredibly trivial. Even the band appears to be straining under the weight of a track that simply doesn’t measure up anywhere near Young’s best work. While he has often joked on stage about some of the lines in “Sugar Mountain” being the lamest he had ever written. “We Don’t Smoke” doesn’t even achieve that level of success.

“Florida” seems inconsequential in its own right, a strange spoken-word recounting of a glider accident Young witnessed. Yet within the context of the quietly strummed, Kansas which opens, “I feel like I just woke up/ From a bad dream/ And it’s so good to have you/ Sleeping by my side” a certain logic emerges, that of a man who has lost his way and is trying to find out what he still believes in.

Using a varied cast of musicians including Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm from The Band, as well as Ben Keith and Emmylou Harris, songs cover a lot of bases, some more successfully than others. Ending up on American Stars and Bars, “Star Of Bethlehem” is the sound of a defeated, mournful man: “Ain’t it hard when you wake up in the morning/ And you find out that those other days are gone/ All you have are memories of happiness/ Lingering on.” Yet the music has an upbeat tone suggesting that the only defeat that is final involves dealing with the mortal reckoner.

Wracked with self-doubt, Young never seems quite sure who he is supposed to be. Instead of choosing from one framework he tries on several, like a child at the ice cream shop trying to determine the perfect flavor as the line of impatient customers begins to get cranky. Leaving this record on the shelf was many ways is an act of self-preservation. To be that open and exposed leaves you forever walking the tightrope with an audience always screaming for more.

Fear and doubt infect us all. That Neil Young is willing to wear it on his sleeve for the world to see makes Homegrown a remarkable look at the man beyond the mirror. Raw nerves exposed, he is in the final analysis just a man, alone, imperfect, but still endlessly fascinating.

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