The Traveling Wilburys

Were The Traveling Wilburys a short-lived gimmick or a legitimate musical force? It’s terribly easy to be cynical and dismiss the Wilburys as the former. After all, how many times have we seen an all-star group of musicians come together for a few easy hits? The “fake” all too often flows from such gatherings in waves.

But with the Wilburys, the music tells the story. The Traveling Wilburys were the real deal, a genuine band that just so happened to be made up of some of rock’s greatest talents. Ex-Beatle George Harrison’s band in spirit, all of their band in practice, the Wilburys – featuring Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne – recorded two excellent albums that have become overlooked not because the music isn’t worth remembering, but because they’ve been out of print for so long.


That’s a damn shame.

But there is good news. Those albums are out of print no longer, and the world of music is better for it. Both records, along with four bonus tracks and a DVD of extra material, have been issued as The Traveling Wilburys Collection, an excellent three-disc set that begs to be bought.

You probably already know the Wilburys’ music, at least to some extent. Handle Me With Care and End Of The Line were huge hits, omnipresent on radio and TV. For a while they were seemingly inescapable. I’ve got to be frank: At the time, the songs really got under my skin. And I mean that in a bad way.

Yet times change, and so do people, and so do tastes, and these days? I’ve nothing but good things to say about Traveling Wilburys Volume 1.

This is not second rate stuff by any means. Both Wilburys albums are chock full of stripped down rock and roll and folk-rock of the type they just don’t do anymore. Somehow, Harrison’s spirit of giving and friendship made this unparalleled collaboration work. We’ve got guys like Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison sharing the spotlight with names just as big as theirs … and it works. Tweeter and the Monkey Man is among the finest Dylan compositions of the 1980s, while Congratulations has all the rough edges of a freshly broken heart. Last Night is a fun romp pushed forward by a crisp Petty vocal and cheery horns, and Not Alone Any More is a fine example of why Orbison was held in such high esteem by his fellow Wilburys. His work here is heartbreaking. Dirty World jaunts along with a spring in its step. It’s followed by the kind of number that gets people up and dancing in Rattled, featuring a swinging Lynne vocal.

So it goes for the entire record. Stripped down rock and roll rooted in the 1950s, with a healthy dose of the ‘60s (Harrison and Dylan are part of the band, after all) for good measure.

The band’s second album, joking titled Traveling Wilburys Volume 3 (no, folks, a Volume 2 does not exist), rocks with a harder edge than its predecessor. That’s not to say this is loud rock that will wake the neighbors – like the debut, this record stays well within the confines traditional rock – just that it feels less “jangly.”

Orbison’s croon is missed here. He passed away shortly after the first record became a smash hit. The other Wilburys do a fine job without him, though. She’s My Baby is a great, almost fierce opener, Wilbury Twist closes out the album in good fun, and everything in between is exceedingly strong rock cut from the same cloth guys like Dylan, Petty and Harrison traditional wove. Of particular note are the back-to-back tracks 7 Deadly Sins and Poor House.

Both records have a pair of bonus tracks. Just four bonus tracks overall is pretty damn sparse for what is supposed to be a deluxe set – couldn’t they have scooped up some demos for inclusion? – but at least they’re decent songs. The cover of Runaway is particularly fun. Still, I have to confess some disappointment that there is so little in the way of non-album songs here.

The set is rounded out nicely with a bonus DVD, in true Wilburys fashion titled The Traveling Wilburys DVD Disc 2. No, there is no disc 1.

The True History of the Traveling Wilburys is the centerpiece of this disc, and it’s a fine viewing experience. Culled largely from home movies made during the writing and recording of the first album, it brings viewers right in the middle of genius at work. The spirit of friendship that is the heart and soul of these albums if easy to see. The finest compliment I can offer this feature is that you just might watch it more than once.

A few music videos round out the DVD. They’re spiffy, if you’re into that sort of thing. I’ll probably never watch them again, but I’m also something of a completist, so I’m glad to see they were included.

The whole set comes in a nice fold-out package, with a slim booklet packed with inane, nonsensical liner notes.

Bottom line, if The Traveling Wilburys Collection had only been the two albums being reissued, I would have been happy. This is great stuff. If you haven’t heard the Wilburys beyond their two hit single, get thee to a music store or iTunes and get ye listening! The extra material is just (very welcome) gravy.

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