Vol. 1

Traveling Wilburys

Wilbury Records / Warner Brothers, 1988


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Sometimes it’s a challenge putting together a review, and sometimes they’re so easy it’s laughable.  I mean, how hard could it be to come up with 500 words about a group that features Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty?

Fish in a barrel, people.  Fish in a barrel.

The Traveling Wilburys came about when Lynne, who had just produced Harrison’s successful “comeback” 1987 disc Cloud Nine, and Harrison decided to record a B-side for the planned single “This Is Love.”  At the time, Lynne had also begun work producing what would become Orbison’s posthumous 1989 comeback album Mystery Girl.  The three had lunch and Orbison volunteered to sing on the new Harrison B-side.  The only available recording studio they could find was Dylan’s, and (as the legend goes) Harrison had left the guitar he wanted to use on the track at Petty’s house.  By the time the five were done, “Handle With Care” was in the can, they were all having a blast, and the record company was clamoring for a full album.

The intersection of these five might seem like happy happenstance, but the connections ran much deeper.  Petty had toured and played extensively with Dylan just two years before, Dylan and Harrison had been a mutual admiration society for 25 years, Lynne wore his Beatles jones on his sleeve throughout his career leading ELO, and they all idolized Orbison.  With co-producer Lynne covering guitar, bass and keyboards, co-producer Harrison on electric guitar, and the other three strumming acoustics, all they needed was studio vets Jim Keltner behind the drum kit and Jim Horn on sax and they were off.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The results as chronicled in Vol. 1 are pure fun like only a pride of musical lions could imagine, a giddy collection of foot-tapping numbers that starts out smiling wide and never sinks lower than a sly grin.  Lead vocals are split up judiciously among the principals, and although all songs are generously credited to the entire group -- Otis, Nelson, Charlie T. Jr., Lefty and Lucky Wilbury, according to the liner notes -- it’s not hard to pick out primary authors on most tracks.

The two highlights here are the opener and closer, both hit singles.  “Handle With Care” and “End Of The Line” -- the former warm and sunny, the latter weary but ultimately hopeful -- both feature the five principals each taking a turn solo at the mike.  “Handle With Care,” the song that originally brought the five together, is clearly a Harrison/Lynne number, featuring George on lead for the verses, then switching to Roy before handing off to the entire gang in chorus, familiar voices weaving in and out and over and under one another until a typically sweet and affirming Harrison guitar solo closes it out.

Dylan, who sounds like he had more fun here than in the entire remainder of his estimable career, delivers no less than three cuts, the darkly funny pop ditty “Dirty World,” the tongue-in-cheek dirge “Congratulations,” and the biting story-song “Tweeter And The Monkey Man.”  You’ve got to wonder what Bruce Springsteen thought of the latter, a rather snide parody of Springsteen’s own early-career Dylan fixation.  When one of your musical idols makes fun of you, is the more logical reaction horror or “Hey!  He noticed me!”  Only Bruce knows.

Lynne takes a turn out front with the old-school rocker “Rattled,” Petty gets help from the whole crew on the hilarious morning-after anthem “Last Night,” Harrison gets his transcendence on with the jangle-rock gem “Heading For The Light,” and Orbison shines on the tailor-made, celebratory “Not Alone Any More.”  (The latter track may have been co-written by Orbison, but its cinematic feel and bold use of strings suggest Lynne had a strong hand in it as well.)

In one sense this album is almost a throwaway; it’s not as though any of the principals were in it for anything more than a good time, and there’s not a great deal of lasting meaning to be taken from these songs.  But whether or not it’s “important,” this album is thoroughly entertaining for anyone who enjoys any one of these artists, and George Harrison -- finally part of a band in which he’s treated as a true equal -- shines particularly brightly.

Rating: B+

User Rating: A



© 2006 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Wilbury Records / Warner Brothers, and is used for informational purposes only.