Who woulda thunk that on June 19, in the year 2020, Bob Dylan and Neil Young would both release new (one small caveat), critically acclaimed albums to ever-adoring legions of fans? Nearly 60 years since they emerged as folk artists and slowly began to enter the rest of the globe's consciousness, the two pioneers whose careers have taken many shapes continue to pave uncharted territory. The 79 year-old born Robert Zimmerman and the spry 74 year-old Canadian have certainly endured their shares of ups and downs, both personally and professionally, but as we enter the third decade of the 21st century, the fact that Bob Dylan and Neil Young are still relevant is in itself a cause for celebration. Rough and Rowdy Ways is Dylan's first album of original material since 2012. And while Young puts out new music on a near-annual basis, Homegrown is a mid-70s lost classic (hence the caveat) just now seeing the light of day.
Near the end of March, when "social distancing" and "unprecedented times" had fully replaced "I'm going shopping" and "I'll meet you there" in ubiquity, Dylan dropped a 17-minute single named "Murder Most Foul" completely unannounced. As the epic relives the JFK assassination through the greater American experience, it felt like a gift from a living-legend to an everything-starved nation. Three weeks later another single followed before Rough and Rowdy Ways was finally announced in May. It's Dylan through and through, and as the Minnesota native spins history, his 39th studio album finds him entertaining his own place therein, a pseudo form of musical gonzo journalism.
Homegrown has been the oft-discussed, nearly-mythical album so close to release in 1975 that it even had artwork. The Godfather of Grunge has said in various ways over the years that the record was essentially too personal for him, as his marriage disintegrated and his partnership with Crosby, Stills, and Nash went in one nostril and out the other. 45 years later this acoustic-driven effort requires merely a strum and a half at its outset to sound right at home alongside Harvest and Comes a Time in a diverse catalog that, like some Crazy Horse jams, seems to have no end.
These two enigmatic individuals are united by a mutual respect for one another, the love of listeners generations and continents apart, but mostly in how they always stay true to themselves and let the music dictate the course. I remember once reading something along the lines of, "If Bob Dylan had died in 1967, they would have put his face on the penny." While hyperbolic, truth undoubtedly resides in the notion of death as a shortcut to becoming a legend. After all, as Young once sang, "It's better to burn out than to fade away." It's astounding these two haven't succumbed to either fate. If you were into Bob and Neil before, you'll likely enjoy Rough and Rowdy Ways and Homegrown. If not, don't hold out hope their presence will ever dissipate. It's safe to say, to paraphrase Mr. Young, they're here to stay.
I will say that while I do enjoy both of these albums, Homegrown takes the cake as it grows on me with every single listen. Had it been released in 1975, particularly the last third which is essential Neil, it would have been rightfully labeled Harvest Part 2.
Bob Dylan - Rough and Rowdy Ways
Neil Young - Homegrown
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