Austin's No. 1 citizen since he moved here nearly half a century ago, Willie Nelson turns 86 today. His ninth decade around the sun has turned out to be one of his most active: Since turning 80 in 2013, Nelson has released a dozen albums, with a new one, "Ride Me Back Home," due out on June 21.

Two weeks later, Nelson will return to Circuit of the Americas for the fifth straight year for his annual Fourth of July Picnic. The American-Statesman's man-about-the-Picnic, Dave Thomas (yes, he's @williepicnic on Twitter), was among a few lucky visitors with Willie earlier this month in a SiriusXM Radio session to preview the new album.

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Nelson recently released the new album's title track, which was written by Sonny Throckmorton. An ode to the 70-odd horses Nelson has rescued that roam the grounds of his ranch in Spicewood just west of Austin, it's a bittersweet ode to the animals that are clearly very near and dear to Nelson's heart. "Ride me back home to a much better place, blue skies and sunshine and plenty of space," he sings.

 

Nelson has worked with Habitat for Horses, a sanctuary in the east Texas town of Alvin, to help find homes for the animals through adoptions. In a short video he made recently, Willie tells the story of the horses along with daughter Amy Nelson and several ranch hands who care for the animals:

 

That new album, by the way, also features a surprising cover: Billy Joel's 1970s pop smash "Just the Way You Are." If it's not quite what we'd expect from the Red Headed Stranger, it's a sentiment that rings true on his birthday. Don't go changin', Willie!

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