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Music Review: Willie Nelson's latest is relaxed, joyous

FILE - In this Feb. 6, 2019 file photo, Willie Nelson performs at the Producers & Engineers Wing 12th Annual GRAMMY Week Celebration at the Village Studio in Los Angeles. Nelson’s latest studio offering, “Ride Me Back Home,” is a relaxed, joyous collection that finds Nelson reflecting, explicitly, on age and its toll - complaining, in fact, about the way time has left his face so lined - but free of any self-pity. It’s more of a celebration than some of his recent albums, and more of a showcase for his deceptively simple guitar work, which still carries an emotional wallop with its easy tone and subtlety. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

Willie Nelson, “Ride Me Back Home” (Sony Legacy)

Willie Nelson’s latest studio offering, “Ride Me Back Home,” is a relaxed, joyous collection that finds Nelson reflecting, explicitly, on age and its toll — complaining, in fact, about the way time has left his face so lined — but free of any self-pity.

It’s more of a celebration than some of his recent albums, and more of a showcase for his deceptively simple guitar work, which still carries an emotional wallop with its easy tone and subtlety.

Nelson vividly evokes the landscapes of the west, particularly in the title track, a paean to the days before horses were fenced in, but also takes listeners to Ellis Island in New York Harbor in a stunning and relevant cover of Guy Clark and Roger Murrah’s “Immigrant Eyes.”

There are also three new tunes Nelson wrote with producer Buddy Cannon. The most meaningful is “Come On Time,” which describes a personal competition with time that the singer knows he can’t possibly win. “You sure have put me in my place,” he concedes. More defiant is “One More Song to Write,” which sounds very much like the work of a man who wants to embrace more of life.

It is odd that Nelson, at 86, sounds as if his singing and guitar playing is almost effortless. It stems in part from his natural phrasing, and the familiarity of his voice, a staple in so many lives for decades, but it also has something to do with the sense of comfort he conveys. He’s long past looking for drama, for conflict and its resolution. It’s more as if he’s visiting with his fans, putting his feet up, and letting it fly.

Gregory Katz, The Associated Press