Ride Me Back Home
Willie Nelson’s career has been a phenomenon – and the “IRS Tapes” years, the stories of bankruptcy and the punchlines about him being a weed-smoking machine seem so far in the rearview mirror now, it’s back to the music. He’s been making nearly consistently great music across the last two decades (I say nearly because the reggae-album, the kids-album and other gimmicks never quite held up).
But his best stuff has been remarkable, lovely, wise. A poignancy seems to dust-coat every release.
And that’s certainly the case with Ride Me Back Home.
It’s a laidback affair (of course) and features three new songs and a bunch of covers. Nelson has long been able to rewrite a song by applying his phrasing, his delivery. So there’s never really a concern for me around ratio of covers to originals – I mean here, for fucks sake, he even makes me nearly-love Billy Joel’s Just The Way You Are (a song I’ve never loved in any iteration).
The opening title track lopes into place bringing with it some lovely steel guitars and harmonica and a dreamy vocal from Nelson. Brushed drums and just a little bit of sprightliness from “Trigger”.
Actually, I could do with hearing more from ol’ Trig on this – but Nelson is slowing, so his guitar playing here can’t compete with that start of his second wind (back on those albums like Teatro and Spirit) but it seems reasonable that he’s not able to quite hit those sorts of notes, or at the least not as often, not as quickly.
It’s a small complaint. Particularly when you hear a song like Come On Time, Nelson’s rhythm playing here is superb. And there’s a bounce to the song that is smile-inducing.
Willie’s almost as surprised as you that he’s still going I reckon. And he has fun here singing about the Seven Year Itch and how he beat it in three, and how time is his friend through association; something he can’t kill (and it doesn’t seem to be able to kill him).
My Favourite Picture of You is lovely here. As is the throwback to the honky-tonks Willie would have served in when he was earning his stripes, here on songs like Immigrant Eyes and Stay Away From Lonely Places; a lovely trickle of late-night blues piano framing this.
His songs Lukas and Micah join him for a laugh on It’s Hard To Be Humble (I don’t think, given all his achievements, Willie’s ever found it that hard) and there’s a creamy bit of guitar playing and a hint of Teatro’s glorious rhythmic treatments on One More Song To Write.
Nelson’s made better albums than this – but this is one of his finest from a recent, steady crop. And that’s all we can ask for, and even a bit more than that in fact.
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