Age has not slowed Willie Nelson down. Ride Me Back Home is his sixty-ninth album released over sixty-three years of performing. His most recent album is a primarily made up of covers, a rerecording, and a few new debuts. Rather than create an entirely new album from scratch, he adds his own touch to classic songs. A lot of today’s new releases are often lost in a sea of competition and with Ride Me Back Home, Willie revives older songs that are still relevant today.
Willie Nelson is an outlaw country pioneer and lifelong activist. His primary focus has been the legalization of marijuana along with environmental concerns and humanitarian crises. Most recently he denounced the Trump administration’s child separation policies and weathered the negative reactions from his more conservative fans. By releasing a cover of Guy Clark’s “Immigrant Eyes” on his latest album, Willie takes a classic country song and showcases how the message is still relevant today. The music video for “Immigrant Eyes” interplays black and white photographs of Europeans huddled together at Ellis Island along with current footage of those detained at the border and the resulting protests to allow them entry. His cover of “Immigrant Eyes” is a reminder that those detained at the border are not so different from our own grandparents.
With sixty-nine albums, a lot of Willie’s work has been buried under itself. In choosing to rerecord “Stay Away From Lonely Places,” he revitalizes a mostly forgotten song from his 1972 album, The Words Don’t Fit The Picture. The new rendition sounds more confident than the early recording as the artist has been performing the song for more than forty years. The new update moves away from country twang and focuses on Willie’s voice as he embraces his role as an American storyteller. For fans that love the song, they will get to hear a more modern Willie that sounds closer to his current concert performances.
“Come On Time” is the most honky-tonk song of the album as the aged singer goes toe-to-toe with undefeated Farther Time. Willie comes to terms with losing this race, but he still shows up with a smile on his face. A similar vibe is evident later in the album with “One More Song To Write.” The ballad is about speaking his mind and his willingness to burn a bridge to tell it like it is. “One More Song To Write” is far from a goodbye. Rather, he is looking to the immediate future. He is always on the lookout for one more lesson and has the energy to tackle each story one at a time.
This review would be remiss without mentioning Willie’s cover of “It’s Hard To Be Humble” featuring two of his sons, Lukas and Micah Nelson. The song was originally sung by Mac Davis and pokes fun at anyone too big for their britches. The song takes on more meaning today with America’s current polarization full of egotistical personalities who think they are too smart to learn anything more. Similar to the rest of Ride Me Back Home, Willie’s cover of “It’s Hard To Be Humble” reminds his audience to not take themselves too seriously and that humility is a virtue to be admired.
While pop music churns through young new artists every few years, country acts are more often given the chance to ripen with old age. Willie Nelson’s experience as a storyteller shines through in Ride Me Back Home with his rich voice being the main draw of the album. Even though times are changing, it would be wise to listen to Willie’s musings regarding our current interconnected era. In the song “Nobody’s Listening,” he sings, “In these days of change and mass communication / Seems like no one’s plugged into the sounds of desperation.” It is easy to ignore old timers because they are not copying current trends, but Willie has stories younger generations could learn from if they take the time to listen.
Be sure to pair your listening experience with a joint for the full experience.