Willie Nelson has galloped back onto the charts with his new album “Ride Me Back Home” — an evocative album touching on everything from horse rescues to immigration and the passage of time.
While Willie takes on some weighty issues, he tosses in a bit of wry humor with his own songs “Come On Time” and “Seven Year Itch.” He also covers the tongue-in-cheek Mac Davis ditty, “It’s Hard to Be Humble.”
The album opens with the title song, “Ride Me Back Home.” In a trailer for the album, Willie tells about rescuing a large group of horses, although he doesn’t use a word like rescue when talking about himself. Rather, he relays what happened in his own matter-of-fact, laid-back fashion.
“These horses were getting ready to be slaughtered,” Willie said. He tells how he already owned about 10 or 15 horses. “Then we bought about 50 more,” said Willie. “Now we’ve got about 75 horses.”
Willie, of course, would never consider what he did as heroic. In a mini-documentary released along with the album, Willie talks about the heroic actions of horses, especially in serving the nation’s military during times ranging from World War I to the Korean War.
“Over 6 million horses and mules gave their lives for their country in World War I,” the documentary states. “They’ve earned our respect.” The documentary goes on to relate that “Over 70 horses have been saved from slaughter and now live in Luck, Texas.”
Before the documentary ends, it’s dedicated to Sergeant Reckless, a horse that served with the U.S. Marine Corps.
“She completed 51 solo missions during the Korean War, saving countless American soldiers and becoming the most decorated war horse in history,” the documentary states. Bringing things back down to earth, Willie also dedicates the short film to Willamina, obviously a favorite mule at his ranch.
The song “Ride Me Back Home” was written by Willie’s Texas neighbor, Sonny Throckmorton, in collaboration with three others. Throckmorton knows about Willie’s affinity for horses and wrote the song especially for him. It begins with a nod to the war horses, then takes a turn to the wild ones out West.
“We rode into battle barebacked and saddled, you took the wound in your side. You pulled the sleds and you pulled the wagons, you gave ‘em somewhere to hide,” Willie intones in the opening lines.
“Now, they don’t need you and there’s no one to feed you, And there’s fences where you used to roam,” Willie sings. “I wish I could gather up all of your brothers and you would just ride me back home.”
The song’s chorus describes what many horses — and people too — would consider paradise: “Ride me back home to a much better place, blue skies and sunshine and plenty of space. Somewhere where they would just leave you alone, somewhere that you could call home, and you would just ride me back home.”
After shooting out of the gate with the winning title song, Wille places with the album’s second cut, the bouncy “Come on Time.” Co-written by Willie with album producer Buddy Cannon, Willie commences with some musical observations about the passing of time.
Come on time,” Willie says. “Why did you leave these lines on my face? You sure put me in my place.” With the backing musicians hitting the groove with a jaunty beat, the song serves notice that this album is setting up to be an exceptional work — even for Willie.
With the third cut. Willie sets it in stone with his version of Guy Clark’s “My Favorite Picture of You.” Clark is one of the few writers I would be put in the same class as Willie, Kris Kristofferson, John Prine and Billy Joe Shaver.
With “My Favorite Picture of You,” Willie does justice and then some to Clark’s ode to his favorite photograph. Is it of a long-lost lover or a long-suffering spouse? The lyrics come with just enough intrigue to keep you guessing.
“My favorite picture of you, is the one where you’re staring straight into the lens.” It doesn’t sound like a remarkable photo, but it’s one that perfectly pictures the poignancy the singer is perceiving.
“My favorite picture of you, is bent and faded and pinned to my wall. Oh, and you were so angry, it’s hard to believe we were lovers at all.” Later in the song, Willie sings “It’s a thousand words in the blink of an eye. The camera loves you, and so do I.”
While this album is primarily country Willie, it takes a turn down the jazz-blues path, with “Seven Year Itch” featuring a descending chord and bass line reminiscent of “Stay Cat Strut.” It also offers a shot of Willie’s humor with its lines: “I had the seven year itch, scratched it out in three.”
The only thing better than one Guy Clark song is two. Clark’s “Immigrant Eyes” is about immigrants coming to Ellis Island decades ago. A video Willie’s made of the song features old black and white film of those entering America at Ellis Island — but it’s intercut with more recent shots of the situation at the southern border.
“They were standing in lines just like cattle, poked and prodded and shoved.” In words that could have been written today, Willie sings “Some were one desk away from sweet freedom. Some were torn from someone they love.”
The song recalls the courage of the writer’s grandfather, who came to America “confused and alone” and “carrying everything that he owned.”
Sometimes when he looks into his grandfather’s immigrant eyes, he sees that day reflected. “I see starting with nothing and working hard all his life, so don’t take it for granted, say grandfather’s immigrant eyes.”
The album includes Willie’s 1972 song “Stay Away From Lonely Places.” Willie also does a winning take of Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are” and is joined by his sons, Lukas and Micah Nelson on “It’s Hard to Humble” on the new “Ride Me Back Home” album.
Speaking of horses — in a roundabout way — one of the best things about the album is Willie’s immaculate guitar solos on his classical Martin guitar — which Willie named Trigger in honor of Roy Rogers’ palomino steed.
Give “Ride Me Back Home” a few listens — and the album might just ride away with your heart.
Contact James Beaty at firstname.lastname@example.org.