Legend gets bandied about too easily these days but Willie Nelson, now 86, well deserves the title. With more than six decades in the business: from Music Row songwriter behind Patsy Cline's "Crazy," to memorable covers "Georgia On My Mind" and "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys," to his own chart toppers "On the Road Again" and "Always On My Mind"— the man is unstoppable. Nelson established himself in Austin from Nashville, in the early '70s, paralleled his quitting of hard drinking for pot smoking, and changed sensibilities from hired hand focused on hits, to embracing a more hippie aesthetic and progressive worldview.
Perhaps the only thing more impressive than the fact that Willie Nelson is still at it--it being writing, recording, touring, and toking--is the fact that he's still good at it. These 86 years seem to have sharpened his focus and his sense of humor, so there's not that feeling he's going through the motions when he plays "On the Road Again" for the millionth time. Nearly six decades after he wrote "Crazy," he has largely avoided the pitfalls that have snared so many older country and rock artists, instead emerging as a grandfatherly influence for yet another generation of country misfits like Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price (both of whom played Willie's Outlaw Music Festival last year).
Like so many Willie Nelson albums of the 2010s, Ride Me Back Home bears a title that appears to be a vague nod to Nelson's mortality. Unlike, say, God's Problem Child or Last Man Standing, the cloud doesn't appear to hang so heavy on Ride Me Back Home, but maybe that's because the album is amiably unkempt in a way its immediate predecessors were not. Some of that is due to how Nelson and his longtime producer Buddy Cannon don't rely heavily on original material this time around.
2019 has been the year of yeehaw overload. With artists such as Kacey Musgraves and Lil Nas X introducing a whole new demographic to the joys of country, there is increasing interest in the genre. An album more for the country purist than the average Megan Thee Stallion fan, country music elder-statesman Willie Nelson unveils 'Ride Me Back Home' - the third of a trilogy on mortality, apt for someone in his sixth musical decade.
O verturning customary ideas about older artists slowing down, Nelson - now 86 - has been in prodigious form over the past decade, pumping out a dozen albums of assorted duets, originals, covers and tributes. Nine months after My Way, his homage to Sinatra, comes this final instalment in a trilogy (with 2017's God's Problem Child and 2018's Last Man Standing) in which mortality looms large. In contrast to the sombre hues of late era Johnny Cash, Nelson has kept his tone buoyant - defiant and droll as often as reflective, moods maintained here on three numbers penned with producer Buddy Cannon.