Willie Nelson Releases 75th Solo Album: ‘The Border’ Track-By-Track

Outlaw country legend Willie Nelson released his milestone 75th solo album today (May 31). The Border is an interesting mix of narrative, love songs, and Nelson’s familiar guitar stylings paired with clean production and composition. Here we went track-by-track to explore Nelson’s newest offering, focusing on lyricism, instrumentation, and overall effectiveness.

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Willie Nelson’s The Border Track-By-Track

“The Border”

The title track takes on an interesting narrative persona—that of a border patrol officer. However, there are hints that this character is of Mexican descent, giving him a unique perspective of the border. According to a 2018 report from the Los Angeles Times, more than 50% of border patrol agents are Latino. “The Border” draws on this point of view to create a narrative of a man split between culture and necessity. I see greed in the bushes / I see snakes in the dark / Some are friends of my brothers / Can’t you hear them dogs bark, Nelson sings, making it clear that this character is torn between one side of the border and the other. It’s just a border, they say, sings Nelson, but for this character it’s not just a border. It’s a divider in himself, a way to keep him conflicted and confused.

“Once Upon a Yesterday”

This is a song lamenting the passing of years, reminiscing about listening to music on the radio and mourning artists who have passed. Nelson sings words were swirling in my mind, which eventually lead to songs of pain / songs of love / all for me and you. This is a simple song about writing and listening to music in days gone by, a short ode to creative expression.

“What If I’m Out Of My Mind”

A little love song, “What If I’m Out Of My Mind” takes listeners through the ruminations of a man who wonders if he’s crazy because a woman loves him so much. He can’t possibly believe that she’s so in love with him, and speculates that he’s lost his marbles. What if I’m out of my mind / But she loves me anyway / As long as I’m not out of her mind / I think I’ll be fine, Nelson sings, painting a picture of a character who is accepting of his insanity if it means he gets to have a great love of his life. It doesn’t have much of a deep meaning, but it proves that Willie Nelson still possesses a fun, romantic streak.

“I Wrote This Song For You”

Again, this is a short little love song, but it’s a little more heartfelt than “What If I’m Out Of My Mind.” You never asked me once / To give up on my dream / I know it’s a sacrifice / To love someone like me / I really don’t know how / You do it, but you do / That’s why I sat down / And wrote this song for you, Nelson sings, calling to mind his more emotional, personal songs rather than his narrative moments. This could be a song for Nelson’s wife, Annie D’Angelo, who he’s been married to for 32 years—there’s a sweetness to the lyrics which speak of personal experience.

“Kiss Me When You’re Through”

The Border is definitely full of love songs, but this one is a little different than the others, and could go two ways. “Kiss Me When You’re Through” paints the picture of two people confessing that they’re not right for each other. However, the speaker asks the other person to kiss me when you’re through. This could mean “kiss me when you’re done with me,” or “kiss me when you’re done complaining.” There are hints in the song that these two people are not right for each other, but still aren’t able to fight the gravitational pull between them. It’s a bit ambiguous, but it’s also a bit star-crossed.

“Many A Long And Lonesome Highway”

“Many A Long And Lonesome Highway” calls to mind ramblers, cowboys, and travelers. I believe the best will find me / When I leave the rest behind me, sings Nelson. Here, he’s created a sense of yearning for the openness of the road, of leaving your life behind. There’s a line where he sings about his father on his deathbed, saying there’s nothing left to hold you, meaning he can go off on his own now. Nelson sings about traveling to shake the grief, and wondering when it will dissipate. There are many layers to this short and simple song, melding together to present a choice—leave your life behind and start anew, or sit in grief of a life not lived.

“Hank’s Guitar”

Willie Nelson takes to his narrative again with “Hank’s Guitar,” in which he sings about having a dream about being Hank Williams’ guitar. Here, he weaves a story of companionship between Hank and his guitar, as the instrument is with him throughout his career milestones. It’s an interesting perspective, highlighting one of the longest relationships Hank Williams had—the one with his guitar. The song goes from Hank’s early songwriting to his untimely death at age 29, when Nelson sings, Next thing I knew I was given to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

“Made In Texas”

Simply, this is a fun song about Nelson’s pride at being from Texas. “Made In Texas” is a throwback to classic country tunes—twangy guitar, harmonica, and being proud of where you come from. It’s a clever little ditty about “home sweet home,” where You can always tell a Texan / But you can’t tell him much.

“Nobody Knows Me Like You”

Slowing it down a little after the raucous celebration of Texas, Nelson crafted another sweet ode to love in “Nobody Knows Me Like You.” Nelson sings, Nights where I can’t stand myself / And I take my disappointments out on you / And I know you should be with someone else / Something only you can see / Saves the broken fool in me / With a love that’s known to very few. This is a song that dredges up the darker parts of the speaker and lets his partner’s light shine on them. It says, “you love me despite these things,” setting a wonderfully pure love at the center of the song.

“How Much Does It Cost”

“How Much Does It Cost” poses questions about being free of grief and heartache as Nelson sings, Why am I always trying to make it alright / ‘Cause I’m a songwriter and always will be / But how much does it cost to be free. There’s an ache and a yearning in this song that comes through in Nelson’s vocals as he sings about “doing time” and putting in the effort to create. It almost feels like this is Nelson trying to tell us something, although that could be too close of a reading. However, this last song is interesting, as it brings up dilemmas surrounding the music business. Does Willie Nelson want to be free of the industry? Of making music entirely? It’s hard to fathom. “How Much Does It Cost” could be a biographical song, or it could simply be a fictional commentary on creativity and the music industry. Either way, it closes out the album well by leaving listeners with questions.

Willie Nelson’s The Border is a Hodge-Podge of Songs, But it Works

Overall, The Border seems like a collection of songs that was a bit thrown together. There’s a narrative in the first song that could lend itself to a concept album, but that doesn’t seem to be the direction here. The love songs are sweet and remind us that Willie Nelson is a romantic at heart, while “Hank’s Guitar” and “Made In Texas” showcase his ability to pivot from melancholy, heartfelt subjects to party-time celebrations of his home state. Really, The Border lacks a clear direction, but at the same time it feels complete. The dichotomy of the album is that it goes somewhere and nowhere simultaneously.

Featured Image by Theo Wargo/WireImage

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