Willie Nelson has done some interesting duets in the past couple years. Last year he teamed up with Karen O to cover Under Pressure, which was a high performer on my year end list and a tremendous song. Now, he teams up with Alanis Morissette to record an updated version of his iconic country anthem On The Road Again. Much like Under Pressure, this rendition of On The Road Again, which comes over 40 years after the original release, brings a new dimension to the track.
First of all, Alanis takes the lead on the track with Willie mainly being in a supportive role. Her vocal is right up front in the mix with Willie acting as more of a comforting sage in the background. Much like his work with Karen O, the pairing with Alanis works surprisingly well. You get the feeling that these are two old friends singing about going back out on the road to experience life. Alanis has her telltale vocal flourishes that had us falling in love with Jagged Little Pill back in 1995.
The song leaves behind the excitement of the original, to a more desperate longing for connection. This feeling is aided by a slowed down musical arrangement, which mainly consists of piano and Willie’s classic acoustic guitar. Lyrically, this track leans into themes of loneliness, human connection and mortality that are prominent in music coming out in the COVID era. Singing about yearning to be on the road making music and connecting with friends takes on an added emotional depth in 2021. Moreover, hearing Willie sing “Seeing things that I may never see again” at 88 has a power that is difficult to describe. Instead of the 1980s rippin’ country vibe, On The Road Again in 2021 has a fragility and underlying hope that is truly beautiful.
Willie Nelson’s genius is in how he can write a song that is as important in 2021 as it was in 1980. Moreover, Alanis has always been able to pack unparalleled emotionality into her vocals, which makes her an inspired choice for this track. At 88 Willie Nelson is making music as inspired, powerful and important as he has at any point in his career. His recent singles / duets have been some of his best music in years and I hope we get a couple more. This is a beautiful track that not only sums up the challenges of the past eighteen months, but also sums up humanity. Powerful. Beautiful. Emotional. Willie Nelson is a national treasure.
Listen to On The Road Again