The Traveling Wilburys

For audiophiles, music heads and casual fans alike the storied conception of the Traveling Wilburys is fascinating. They have come to be known as an example of how restraint and casualness as opposed to verbosity and excess can be the best way to utilise the talent pool of a super group. This is made abundantly clear with Rhino’s impressive reissue of their only two albums that also includes a selection of bonus tracks, illuminating liner notes both fictional and biographical and a DVD that includes a documentary of the Wilburys short life span and all their music videos brought together.

‘Traveling Wilburys Volume 1’ is a wonderfully free and loose, totally collaborative effort which reflects a bunch of friends making music together in harmony. It is this accidental homespun charm that makes the album such a treat to listen to. At no stage does any one member overwhelm anyone else and no-one is under or over utilised. Many of the songs have become oldies radio staples like ‘Handle With Care’ and ‘End Of The Line’. Variation is the key though and there are drunken reminiscence numbers like ‘Last Night’ and ‘Congratulations’ that come close to sitting the listener in a ramshackle holiday-home watching these musicians let it all hang loose. Roy gets a chance to shine all by himself on ‘Not Alone Any More’ and subsequently leaves the listener with one of his best latter day offerings, filled with emotion and subtlety. Dylan’s ‘Tweeter and the Monkey Man’ typifies the album’s diversity through a cross between Springsteen-esque balladry and Desire-era epicness. The album delivers as an unambitious, unpretentious collection of brilliantly written songs, performed with the exact right level of carefree insouciance.

The second disc includes an half-hour documentary about the making of the first album, through interviews with band members and home-video footage of the recording sessions filmed by Harrison. The conception and execution of each song is discussed including who was involved in the writing and recoding processes of each. Also included is the Wilburys five music videos. While all provide at least small levels of interest, it is ‘End of the Line’ that rises above. Set on a train it is a perfect homage to Roy who had passed just after the recording of the album was completed

Unfortunately a masterpiece of spontaneity completely lacking in ambition is near impossible to replicate. The cheekily titled second album ‘Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3’ starkly bears this out. While not a bad album by any means, it lacks spark and is unable to recreate the enjoyment one can’t help but feel while listening to ‘Vol. 1’. The Wilburys where never meant to be calculated or ever sound bored. At times ‘Vol. 3’ does. Don’t let this put you off but the genius of the Wilburys will always be clearest on their first album.

While the repackaging and remastering of this landmark band’s output is welcome, concentrate on ‘Volume 1’. It is a treasure that’ll never be lost due not only to the talent involved but the end product created. Its so unique and warm it might just get into the Smithsonian institute one day as an American national treasure.

Courtesy of FasterLouder Australia.

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