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Album reviews: Neil Young – Homegrown, and John Legend – BIGGER LOVE

After 45 years, Young releases his desperately sad ‘lost’ album, while Legend throws himself out of his crooner comfort zone with impressive results 

Roisin O'Connor,Elisa Bray
Wednesday 17 June 2020 17:08 BST
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Intended for release in 1975, ‘Homegrown’ retains the country-rock sound of Young’s ’Harvest’, but has more of an intimate feel
Intended for release in 1975, ‘Homegrown’ retains the country-rock sound of Young’s ’Harvest’, but has more of an intimate feel (Rebecca Cabag/AP)

Neil YoungHomegrown

★★★★☆

Forty-five years after Homegrown was recorded, Neil Young has let fans hear it. The album was described by Young himself as “the one that got away” and the “unheard bridge between Harvest and Comes a Time”. That Tonight’s the Night was released instead was down to Homegrown being built on something he considered too painful: the demise of his relationship with the actor Carrie Snodgress.

“It’s the sad side of a love affair. The damage done. The heartache. I just couldn’t listen to it. I wanted to move on,” Young admitted in an apology to fans. “So I kept it to myself, hidden away… but I should have shared it. It’s actually beautiful.”

It’s also desperately sad. Opener “Separate Ways” – one of seven tracks not previously released on this collection of 12 – establishes the mood with slow-tempo, minor-key acoustic guitar and mournful sliding pedal steel. Young has tackled grief elsewhere – on Tonight’s the Night, which followed the death of two friends, and 2019’s Colorado’s lament for the environment – but Homegrown is his most personal.

Intended for release in 1975, Homegrown retains Harvest’s country-rock sound, but has more of an intimate feel. On the short “Mexico”, he asks plaintively, “Why is it so hard to hold on to your love?”, before weighing up his new options against sparse, drifting piano. The similarly minimal and pensive “Kansas” imagines waking from a bad dream with a new woman at his side.

“We Don’t Smoke It No More” is a welcome injection of lively blues, while the album closes on the country-rock song “Star of Bethlehem”, featuring Emmylou Harris’s gorgeous harmonising vocals and Young on harmonica. A true long-lost classic. EB

John LegendBIGGER LOVE

★★★★☆

(Getty/The Recording Academy) (Alberto E Rodriguez/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

John Legend is the king of schmaltz. No one can do eyes-closed-at-the-piano ballads like he can, and it’s paid off in billions of streams and countless sold-out shows. Yet despite being crowned “Sexiest Man Alive” in 2019, Legend is the first to admit he struggles when it comes to sex appeal.

That’s all changed on the enthusiastically titled BIGGER LOVE. Legend actually pokes fun at his crooner status by opening on with a doo-wop sample for “Ooh La”, before dropping into a trap-influenced beat. On the self-critical kiss-off “Actions”, he boldly samples hip-hop’s go-to, “The Edge”.

You assume “I Do” is Legend’s latest offering to the first dance wedding canon, but then he spins that too, with a delicious funk groove. He adds grit to his typically silky-smooth vocals, and invites Jamaican artist Koffee onto the dancehall-inflected “Don’t Walk Away”. Rhapsody stops “Remember Us” from turning to slush with some typically slick guest bars.

With artist/producer Raphael Saadiq (D’Angelo, Solange), Legend has made a remarkable leap out of his comfort zone. He could easily have served up another full helping of R&B romance, but instead he’s tested himself – something you rarely see in artists of his stature. It’s impressive. RO

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