Traveling Wilburys – The Traveling Wilburys vol 1 (1988)

History: While recording Cloud Nine George and Jeff Lynne kicked around the idea of forming a band together. George initially chose Bob Dylan as someone he would want to work with, and Lynne chose Roy Orbison who was his musical idol. Tom Petty also ended up joining because he was touring with Dylan around that time and all of them got along well together. They recorded “Handle with Care” initially as plans to make it a B side of a single but enjoyed the process of working together so much they made an entire album. While the sessions had a fairly collaborative nature where all members might suggest lyrics or other touches, they did largely alternate taking the lead on various songs on the album.

My own personal history and initial prediction: “Handle with Care” is definitely a song and video I remember seeing quite frequently as a kid. I enjoyed the song a lot and was happy to watch it whenever it came on. I also remember continually being confused as to who Jeff Lynne was. I recognized all the others, even if I hadn’t listen to a whole lot of their music outside of Harrison and Tom Petty who also got a lot of airplay on MTV and VH1 in those days. I don’t think I ever heard the rest of this album before, and I’m curious to see how the styles may shift with the lead songwriters on each track.

Review: So I did eventually realize while listening that I was off on one thing above: I have definitely heard “End of the Line” before and probably saw the video for it too. I like that one a lot as well, along with the other George written track “Heading for the Light.” All three of those songs have a resemblance to the songs found on Cloud Nine, with the addition of some good harmonies and backing vocals from the other members. Roy Orbison’s lead track “Not Alone Anymore” is also a highlight, because any time you get to hear that gorgeous voice singing lead you know you’re in for a good time. It’s such a tragedy that he died so soon after the album was released, because I think he could have been in for a strong return for his career thanks to this album’s success, and his voice was still as strong as it ever was in the 60s.

I enjoyed the Jeff Lynne written track, “Rattled” on here as well, it’s a great classic rock and roll/rhythm and blues song and features Orbison doing his trademark growl a couple times. Petty’s songs are what I would call okay. He’s an artist I’ve always casually enjoyed but never been that heavily into, and that largely carries over into his songs here. “Last Night” in particular is a bit goofy (I do believe that is intentional) but also features a lot of really easy rhyme schemes, the kind where you know what the next line is even when you’ve never heard the song before.

And then there is Dylan. He was only able to record with them for a limited amount of time before leaving on tour, and if you watch the documentary they made about the record, The True History of the Traveling Wilburys, he’s literally the only one who doesn’t comment on working with everyone or any of his feelings about the process. Now, maybe he’s just not a fan of being interviewed and being on camera, but it does certainly make it seem like his heart just wasn’t in it in the same way as the others. Maybe it is just that limited window of time he had too, but his lyrics are no where near up to par with some of his earlier work. “Congratulations” is a real snooze for sure, and while I get that “Dirty World” is meant to be largely a joke song, it just comes off as this dirty old man talking about things I don’t want to hear about. It’s perhaps more frustrating to me because I absolutely love his song “Lay Lady Lay” which is subtle and romantic and wonderful, so I know he can do so much better than that when he wants to. “Tweeter and the Monkey Man” also comes off as a bit of a jumbled mess to me, using similar structure to his classic storytelling songs like “Tangled up in Blue” or “Desolation Row” but without as much poetry and meaning. Apparently he’s making a lot of Springsteen references, and maybe that is my own personal issue as I’ve never care enough for The Boss to be that familiar with his body of work. I did notice the “Jersey Girl” reference but I get that by being a Tom Waits fan.

On a more positive note I did really enjoy “Margarita” which seems to be one of their more collaborative tracks where they were all truly working together. Its sound was a little edgier than the rest of the album up to that point and really surprised me in a pleasant way. So the whole thing is kind of a mixed bag, and I guess that is what is to be expected for supergroups like this. Depending on what artist you may like more (or what artist you may think was in a decline or a resurgence in these specific cases) you’re probably going to enjoy more tracks than others. But I do think the joy of them recording it comes through regardless and makes it worth a listen.

Next Time: Paul releases an album of rock and roll classic covers specifically for release in the U.S.S.R., Снова в СССР.

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