Two years ago, Willie Nelson delivered God’s Problem Child, a tragicomic heart-stopping meditation on the singer’s rapidly advancing age. A year later, he released an equally sturdy follow-up (2018’s Last Man Standing), and after detouring with his collection of Sinatra standards, the 86-year-old legend is back with Ride Me Back Home, yet another collection of late-life wisdoms and honky-truths.
Despite its reliance on other songwriters to convey mortal meditations (see the pair of choice Guy Clark Covers: “My Favorite Picture of You” and the timely “Immigrant Eyes”), Nelson’s latest is a crucial addition to the legend’s masterful late-career songbook. “Come on time/What have you got for me, this time?” the wordplay wizard asks early on, summoning up his last few years of creative blossoming amidst health scares. “I’ll take your words of wisdom/And I’ll try to make ‘em rhyme.”
Ride Me Back Home is set to the same worn-in light country-roots blend Nelson has fine-tuned over the past decade-plus with producer Buddy Cannon. This time around, however, Nelson expands upon the songbook he’s been drawing from in his carefully-curated mortal trilogy, offering his own versions of Billy Joel (“Just the Way You Are”) and Mac Davis (“It’s Hard to Be Humble”) along the way.
Nelson’s vocal prowess remains unaffected by age, timeless in its singular phrasing and unconventional approach to rhythm. On Ride Me Back Home, he uses his voice, that profound American musical instrument, to convey his Texas zen on songs like the title track and the fresh original “One More Song to Write.” “I’ve got one more hill to climb, and it’s somewhere in my mind,” he sings, utterly at peace, on the latter. “I’ll know it when it’s right/I’ve got one more song to write.”