In “Come on Time,” Willie Nelson sings with both defiance and resignation about the futile race against the clock.
Time, you're not fooling me
You're something I can't kill
You're flying like a mighty wind
You're never standing still
And neither is country's favorite outlaw.
Nelson, who turned 86 in April, is no closer to hanging up his spurs than he was when he released his first single in 1959. That was “The Storm Has Just Begun,” which he wrote at age 12 while playing for a polka band in his native Abbott, Texas.
"Come on Time” is one of 11 songs on Ride Me Back Home, his 69th solo studio album since 1962 and 13th in the past 10 years. His explanation for such a furious pace?
"Good songs keep coming along. That's the secret, I think,” Nelson says from his bus — also his home for much of this summer and fall — as he tours the country. He's on the road with his own concerts, the traveling Outlaw Music Festival and a Farm Aid show from Aug. 1 to Nov. 29.
In the Ride album's accompanying essay, music journalist Mikal Gilmore describes Ride Me Back Home as the last in a trilogy of albums focused on mortality, following 2017's God's Problem Child and 2018's Last Man Standing. While Ride's songs do confront the challenges of a shrinking future, Nelson says he doesn't dwell on age.
"Getting older is better than the alternative,” he cracks. “I don't think about it."
Nelson is just too busy. Nearly 60 years after crafting the classic “Crazy,” the best known version of which is by Patsy Cline, Nelson continues to write, record and tour with the determination of a rookie chasing his first radio hit.
Yet nothing is bush league in Ride Me Back Home's homey, rambling tunes that manage to be lighthearted, poignant and sorrowful without turning schmaltzy. It's Nelson's 13th album with producer and cowriter Buddy Cannon, a partnership that's both comfortable and productive.
"We trust each other, we like each other and we work well together,” says Nelson, who first met Cannon in the 1970s. “We take each other's ideas and run with them. We don't ever really disagree about anything."
The pair cowrote the album's three originals, “Come on Time,” “One More Song to Write” and the humorous “Seven Year Itch.” (I had the seven-year itch; scratched it out in three.)
The title track, cowritten with Sonny Throckmorton, addresses the plight of unwanted horses destined for slaughterhouses. The horses Nelson adopted and keeps on his 700-acre Luck ranch in Spicewood, Texas, inspired Throckmorton.
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