Dan DeLuca is on vacation. He returns next week.
(Reprise *** 1/2)
This may be the best release yet from Neil Young’s extensive archives. Homegrown was supposed to come out in 1975, after On the Beach, but Young shelved it and went deeper into the ditches with Tonight’s the Night.
Young calls Homegrown “the unheard bridge between Harvest and Comes a Time,” and like those beloved records, it’s mostly acoustic, with lots of his harmonica. The accompaniment is sparse and familiar. Longtime bandmates such as pedal steel player Ben Keith and bassist Tim Drummond appear, as do some high-profile friends like Emmylou Harris and the Band’s Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson.
Five of the 12 songs would go on to surface on Young’s later albums, sometimes rerecorded. Some of them, like the jaunty “Love is a Rose” and the resigned “Star of Bethlehem,” are already classics.
Young’s marriage to actress Carrie Snodgress was dissolving when he recorded most of these tracks, in late 1974 and early 1975, and many of them chronicle his cynicism and disillusionment, starting with the mournful opener “Separate Ways.”
They’re juxtaposed with several ragged celebrations of pot-smoking, such as the title track, the seemingly disingenuous “We Don’t Smoke It No More,” and the hazy spoken-word piece “Florida” — songs that could be bridges from On the Beach to Tonight’s the Night.
Throughout the ‘70s, Neil Young was on a hot streak of excellent albums, and Homegrown is another one.
— Steve Klinge
Women in Music Pt. III
(Columbia Records **)
When HAIM is at their best — and there are moments on Women in Music Pt. III when they get there — they are exceedingly intelligent borrowers. Take “Man From the Magazine,” from this newest album, which sounds like it could be a cover of a lost Joni Mitchell song.
To hear what HAIM hears when they listen to Joni Mitchell is instructive for thinking about what kind of songs this trio of thoughtful, talented songwriters wants to write. It reveals that the Haim sisters — Este, Alana, and Danielle — know how to sift through the silt of their musical forebearers (Mitchell, but also Fleetwood Mac, Sheryl Crow) and find the sparkling gold. That sensibility is especially evident on “I’ve Been Down” and “Gasoline,” a delightfully anachronistic summer-afternoon song.
Sometimes, that borrowing is generative and fun. It can also verge on unimaginative.
Because of their penchant for lyrics that aren’t recognizably contemporary, HAIM can sound like a composite of all the bands that they like. Songs like “Don’t Wanna” and “Now I’m in It” are almost smash-and-grab jobs. At points, this album can even sound like scrapple from Vampire Weekend’s Father of the Bride, which shares producers with Women in Music Pt. III (Ariel Reichstad and Rostam Batmanglij).
HAIM knows how to take something that’s faded, maybe even forgotten, and then give it a new shine. Time will tell if they can do it more consistently.
— Jesse Bernstein
Blues With Friends
(Keeping the Blues Alive *** 1/2)
As Bob Dylan points out in the liner notes of Blues With Friends, Dion knows his way around the blues, and (in an understatement), he “knows how to sing.” In fact, the Bronx-bred Dion DiMucci — who is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for hits from the doo-wop “I Wonder Why” to the streetwise “The Wanderer” — immersed himself in the blues at an early age and has turned to the music often in recent years.
His “friends” here represent a collection of high-wattage names, but none steal the spotlight from the main man himself, who at 80 sounds as robust as ever as he delivers these 14 original tracks that don’t always hew to a purist vision of the blues but stay true to the music’s spirit.
To be sure, Dion leans into some tough, hard-edged blues and blues-rock in “Blues Comin’ On” with Joe Bonamassa, “I Got Nothin’ " with Van Morrison and Joe Louis Walker, and “Bam Bang Boom” with Billy Gibbons.
“Uptown Number 7” with Brian Setzer injects some rockabilly-ish gospel, while “Told You Once in August” with John Hammond and Rory Block conjures an ancient country-blues vibe. “Can’t Start Over Again,” with Jeff Beck, highlights Dion’s greatness as a balladeer, as does the atmospheric “Hymn to Him” with Patti Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen.
The album centerpiece, however, might be “Song for Sam Cooke (Here in America),” with Paul Simon. The mid-tempo ballad was written years ago. But as Dion pays tribute to his late friend and recalls their time together touring the South in the Jim Crow-era early ’60s, the song takes on a poignant and powerful relevance.