“Let me play some of it for you,” said Willie Nelson on a recent afternoon at his Texas home. The singer was talking about his new album, Ride Me Back Home, which he announced today, just three days shy of his 86th birthday. The move proves that Nelson is as prolific as ever; just six months ago, he released his Grammy-winning Frank Sinatra tribute album My Way.
The new album’s title track, “Ride Me Back Home,” is out today, while the full album is coming June 21st. The song, co-written by Sonny Throckmorton, a Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member, is a heartbreaking tribute to horses who have seen better days (“Now they don’t need you/There’s no one to feed you/There’s fences where you used to roam/I wish I could gather up all of your brothers and you would just ride me back home.”)
The subject is close to Nelson’s heart: He has more than 60 rescue horses on his property outside Austin, Texas, which he calls Luck — one of his favorite things to do is walk across his driveway to his fence and watch them approach him, one by one. “I’ve bought a lot of horses that were gonna be slaughtered,” Nelson said. When he heard Throckmorton’s song, he was floored: “It’s a good story,” Nelson says. “I heard it and I said it fits exactly the same thing I’m doing. It just seemed natural.”
The album continues with darkly funny songs about getting older (“Come on Time”) and temptation (“Seven Year Itch,” with the line “I had the seven-year-itch and scratched it out in three.”) Nelson laughs while talking about it: “It’s an old joke I’ve known since childhood in Abbott,” he says. He turns up “My Favorite Picture of You,” a ballad written by Guy Clark, which Nelson says might be his favorite track on the album.
The album is Nelson’s 13th with producer and co-writer Buddy Cannon. In his liner notes, Mikal Gilmore calls the album a continuation of a trilogy that began in 2017 with God’s Problem Child and was followed in 2018 with Last Man Standing. “Ride Me Back Home, though, brings a different component of mortality into view: empathy,” Gilmore writes. There are surprise covers (Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are”) and sneaky political commentary (Nelson lets it slip that he recorded Mac Davis’ “Hard to Be Humble” about a certain President.) Nelson also revives an old forgotten cut, “Stay Away From Lonely Places,” which he first wrote for his 1972 album The Words Don’t Fit the Picture. Cannon was the one who convinced Nelson to revisit it: “I’m the biggest Willie Nelson fan there is, and I thought I knew every song that he ever did. But I had never heard that song. It sounded totally new to me. He’s a born troubadour. It’s the greatness: That early genius that was him and his songs is still there.”
Nelson has already started playing some of the new material live. This summer, he’s headlining the Outlaw Music Festival, which includes Phil Lesh & Friends, Alison Krauss, the Avett Brothers and more.
“That’s where I’m the most comfortable: playing music and releasing a lot of whatever,” Nelson says. “That’s how I relax.”
Willie Nelson – Ride Me Back Home
- “Ride Me Back Home”
- “Come On Time”
- “My Favorite Picture of You”
- “Seven Year Itch”
- “Immigrant Eyes”
- “Stay Away From Lonely Places”
- “Just the Way You Are”
- “One More Song to Write”
- “Nobody’s Listening”
- “It’s Hard to Be Humble” (with Lukas Nelson and Micah Nelson)
- “Maybe I Should’ve Been Listening”