REVIEW: Willie Nelson’s “Ride Me Back Home” Continues Hot Streak

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What do you plan on doing when you are 86?  Yeah, I don’t know either.  I wonder if Willie Nelson thought he would still be playing and recording, much less at the level he has shown over his last several albums. Ride Me Back Home (Legacy Recordings) is Nelson’s 69thalbum, lucky number 13 with producer Buddy Cannon and it continues the hot streak Willie has seemingly been on since he came to Nashville in 1960.  It would be easy to phone it in at this point but Willie never takes the easy way out and delivers a fantastic work complete with new tracks, always interesting in the “road less traveled kinda way” covers and a revisit here and there.

The title track, co-written with Nashville Songwriters Hall of fame member Sonny Throckmorton, is textbook Willie. Singing about the plight of horses in our changing world it sets the tone for what is to come. ”Come On Time” — one of the four co-writes with producer Cannon — is a humorous jab at aging.  “Seven Year Itch” is one of this collection’s standout moments.  Jazzy and slyly delivered this track is immediately entertaining with the harmonica drifting in and out, battling the excellent guitar work for your attention. I figured this would be “the moment” but I was a little wrong.  The thing I have always liked about Nelson is his ability to take the works of other artists/songwriters and put his indelible stamp on it.  While there are a few covers on Ride Me Back Home, the two that really resonate are “My Favorite Picture of You” and “Immigrant Eyes” both by Texas legend Guy Clark.  The latter is a beautifully poignant telling of the immigrant experience and should be mandatory listening as it hits the listener in the heart. The former is damn near heart breaking. Included on Guy Clark’s 2014 album which was the first after his wife, Susannah Clark’s death. I dare you not to get misty eyed.  I imagine Clark sitting in a room by himself flipping through photos of his wife and remembering the moments captured as he wrote this song.  Willie’s warm voice does Clark’s legacy more than proud and the warmth and sincerity he conveys allows the track to slowly draw you in.  A truly stunning moment.

A reworking of “Stay Away from Lonely Places,” a deep cut from Willie’s 1972 album The Words Don’t Fit the Picture, is like trip back in time. Late night barroom piano twinkling away and a subdued steel guitar are just present enough behind Nelson’s voice to keep it interesting.  With a song this good being pulled from a forty seven year old release I feel compelled to go album cut diving to find some more gems hidden in plain sight.

The remaining tracks all fit nice and neat inside this eleven song offering. Buddy Cannon has shown a reverence for the artist without allowing his fondness to pander. Each song has its place as well as its own style. Jazz, countrypolitan, blues, folk and country all find their moment to shine and yet the album does come off as a single statement.  I think it may be one of the most endearing things about Ride Me Back Home.  Some forty years since I was introduced to Willie (courtesy of my father’s Red Headed Stranger LP) I get to pay my dad back with this album.  I know he will like the stylistic changes and love that Nelson still sounds great so I can’t wait to share it with him.  My sentimentality aside, this is a strong album from one of the true legends of American music and I am already looking forward to whatever he decides to do next.  Check it out, here: http://clubluck.willienelson.com

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