|The Traveling Wilburys:
The Traveling Wilburys Collection Label: Wilbury Records/Rhino
Sometimes, it’s awfully tough to be a publicist.
It’s one thing when you’ve got an artist and an album that you believe in; in those cases, it’s a labor of love to chat up various publications and sell them on something that, in your heart of hearts, you know deserves to be huge. Occasionally, though, you’re stuck with a real dog of a disc, and you’ve got to grit your teeth and figure out how close you can come to offering a compliment for the material you’re promoting without feeling like you’re going to go to Hell for being a dirty liar; in those situations, you go home at the end of the day, feeling exhausted.
One has to imagine, then, that the lucky bastard who was handed the plum assignment of promoting the debut album from the Traveling Wilburys was the most relaxed son of a bitch in the Warner Brothers offices.
Take a Beatle (George Harrison), the world’s foremost Beatle imitator (Jeff Lynne), one of the most beautiful voices of ‘50s rock and roll (Roy Orbison), one of the most popular rock singers of the ‘70s and ‘80s (Tom Petty), and a man who’s universally considered to be one of the greatest songwriters of his generation (Bob Dylan). Talk about a record that sells itself! When word of this collaboration leaked out, people skipped right over the part where they were supposed to wonder if it was going to be any good, moving straight on to yelling, “I want to hear this thing now!”
The most amazing part is that, instead of imploding in a conflagration of egos, The Traveling Wilburys’ debut – cleverly titled Volume 1 – really does feel like a group effort. Most songs are structured so that the individual members can be heard at one point or another, but, even so, every member of the group is entrusted with a song or two that plays to their particular strengths. “Handle with Care” was the perfect choice for the album’s first single, since it showcases Harrison’s familiar voice during the verse, then reintroduces the world at large to Orbison before offering the ragged but loveable harmonies of Dylan and Petty, who trade their position off to the team of Orbison and Lynne the next time ‘round. The fun these guys had recording this album is palpable; Dylan’s gets a rare opportunity to show off his sense of humor by throwing out the double entendres of “Dirty World,” and when Lynne goes rockabilly on “Rattled,” Orbison finds an excuse to let rip with his patented growl. Though an enjoyable lark for both listener and artist, it’s definitely not a situation where the Wilburys only came to the table with songs that weren’t good enough for their own albums; most of these songs can easily stand alongside the best material from their respective solo careers. In particular, “Not Alone Any More” may be one of the best songs with which Roy Orbison was ever associated.
It’s reasonable to presume, then, that it was Orbison’s unexpected passing not long after the release of Volume 1 which resulted in the group’s second album – even more cleverly titled Volume 3 – being less immediately enjoyable. It isn’t bad by any means…and, frankly, given the amount of creativity involved, it may not even be possible for an album recorded by Dylan, Harrison, Lynne, and Petty to be bad…but, at the very least, it feels less fun. (Instant exception: “Wilbury Twist.”) The passage of time has been extremely kind to the record, however; listening to it with a fresh ear results in songs like the sitar-laced “The Devil’s Been Busy,” the bouncy “New Blue Moon,” and the doo-wop of “7 Deadly Sins” proving instantly enjoyable. Maybe it’s because Orbison’s death is so far behind us now, or maybe it’s because Harrison’s gone now, too; either way, if you wrote off Volume 3 upon its initial release, you may be pleasantly surprised to discover how much you enjoy it now.
As to the bonuses added to this collection, there have been two tracks added to each of the discs, but, for the most part, they aren’t really anything to write home about. Of the two heretofore-unreleased songs, the Harrison-sung “Maxine” is better than Dylan’s “Like a Ship”; as to the other pair, the cover of Del Shannon’s “Runaway” is nothing more than pleasant, but “Nobody’s Child” – originally the title track of a 1990 charity album – is certainly the best of any of the extra tracks. It’s the DVD that’s included as part of the package that’s worth the price of admission; we get to see actual footage of the original five members as they record their debut album and do a bit of on-camera Q&A for promotional purposes. Remember that earlier comment about how the fun of recording the album was palpable? Now you have visual confirmation.
After listening to these two discs, you won’t be sad at the realization that there’ll never be another Traveling Wilburys album; you’ll just be glad that we got the ones we did.