The Traveling Wilburys Collection

The Traveling Wilburys

Fresh on the heels of his 80s comeback album Cloud Nine, George Harrison, along with partner-in-crime, ELO leader/producer Jeff Lynne, was buzzing with new ideas. Somehow, in the general neighborhood of Malibu and the Hollywood Hills, Harrison and Lynne got together with Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty for a recording of “Handle With Care,” originally intended as a B-side for a British single from Cloud Nine. Record company executives immediately recognized the song’s potency, as well as the appeal of this one-of-a-kind grouping. Suddenly, plans for a full-scale album were in motion, and the Traveling Wilburys were born. This supergroup of supergroups made only two albums (the typical number for supergroups) and lost a member (Orbison) along the way, but both discs have long been out of print until now. Fresh from the oven, The Traveling Wilburys Collection features Volume 1 and 3, four bonus tracks, and a DVD with five videos and a documentary about the band. Yes, this collection was well worth the wait.

The real beauty behind The Traveling Wilburys was the total abandonment of ego and ambition that surrounded these recordings. After all, here was a band, in the most liberal sense of the word, that consist of five world-class musicians who’d already proved themselves time and time again. Going into it with the knowledge that they could easily return to their day jobs or just retire on an island somewhere with their legacy intact — this alleviated the pressure of making something groundbreaking. Instead, Harrison, Lynne, Orbison, Dylan and Petty merely sat down with their acoustics and their voices, and let it all spill out, which ever way it would. Somehow, the spontaneity and laidback performances translated into the Volume 1 album that achieved double-platinum status and earned a Grammy® for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group.

As “Handle With Care” introduces the group as a cohesive unit with Harrison at the helm, many of the subsequent cuts focus on the individual talents of the members with ample back-up from the others. Dylan, whose solo career floundered and dipped throughout the 80s, comes out swinging on three tracks from Volume 1: “Dirty World,” “Congratulations,” and “Tweeter And The Monkey Man.” Many Dylan aficionados claim these may have been the best tunes from the singer-songwriter at a time when he was contemplating retirement. The rockabilly drive of “Rattled” belongs to Jeff Lynne, “Last Night” is pretty much all Tom Petty (with Orbison on the bridge), “Not Alone Any More” captures a vintage vocal from Orbison, and “Heading For The Night” could have easily found a home on a George Harrison album. “End Of The Line,” the album’s closer, gives each player a verse to toy as the unison choruses fill in the gaps. “Maxine” and “Like A Ship,” the bonus tracks added to Volume 1, do little in tightening up the dynamics, but it’s nice to know the quintet had some leftovers from the sessions.

Reduced to a quartet, Volume 3 came along in 1990 with far less fanfare. With Orbison gone, it seemed almost too contrived to carry on. But listening to the disc reveals a deeper sense of melody and range than explored on the first record. “She’s My Baby” starts off like an ELO spaceship lifting off, but eventually prods the others up to the mike. Dylan truly shines on “Inside Out,” “If You Belonged On Me” and “7 Deadly Sins.” Meanwhile, Petty assumes the vocal duties for much of the record, taking the verses on “The Devil’s Been Busy,” “Poor House,” and “Cool Dry Place,” while supplying the chorus for “Inside Out.” Meanwhile, Lynne and Harrison seem under represented, chipping in on “You Took My Breath Away,” but restricted to minimal roles on the rest of the album. The group’s chemistry collides on “Where Were You Last Night,” “New Blue Moon,” and “Wilbury Twist,” a novelty tune released as one of the album’s two singles. The two bonus tracks on Volume 3 pack a mightier punch than those on Volume 1. “Nobody's Child” was originally included on a compilation album released in 1990 in aid of The Romanian Angel Appeal. And a cover of “Runaway” serves as a tribute to Del Shannon, the song’s author at one time considered to replace Orbison. Unfortunately, Shannon committed suicide two months prior to the recording of Volume 3.

To round out the set, the DVD's five music videos and short documentary give the set a nice touch. For The True Story Of The Traveling Wilburys, everyone but Dylan chats about the union and camaraderie. There’s some great intimate footage Harrison shot with a camcorder during the sessions. In one sequence, Petty tells Orbison he must be the greatest singer in the world. The typically modest and gentle Texan replies: “Yeah.”

The Traveling Wilburys Collection is available in four different formats. The standard package features Volume1, Volume 3, the DVD, and a 16-page booklet, while a deluxe edition includes the three discs and a 40-page booklet. A vinyl edition includes the two albums and the bonus tracks. A digital edition has pretty much everything available for download. Ten years in the making, and they definitely worked hard to get this one right. Bravo!

~ Shawn Perry

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