The Traveling Wilburys – Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 (1990)

History: George, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, and Tom Petty all gathered together again in 1990 to make another album, this time without the late Roy Orbison. It was once again a project of collaboration with all of them sharing writing credits and George and Jeff producing. It was George’s idea to title it volume 3 as a cheeky way to possibly confuse people.

My own personal history and initial prediction: None of the titles on this album ring any bells for me, but it’s possible that once I hear them I may realize I recognize the singles at least. The lack of Roy Orbison on this one is disappointing for sure, and I can’t help but give the side eye when I see that nearly all of side one is led by Dylan. But I will remain hopeful, especially since Dylan’s last album release before this one is widely considered a good one.

Review: The lack of Orbison was definitely felt on this one, as while the vocals are what I would call solid, especially the backing vocal harmonies which sound fantastic, it would be nice to have his more golden tones to change it up from time to time. Dylan and Petty have very nearly the same voice (not to the point of being indistinguishable from each other, but certainly the same style) and Lynne seems to be largely singing in a lower register here than on the previous album to match the rest of them. It does mean that they all gel well together, but a counterpoint would have been nice to hear now and again.

The songs range in style from folk to country to doowop, definitely largely inspired by the songs of their youth rather than anything modern. And really, all four of these guys are really good at those styles, so there’s really no reason for them to stray from that. George’s guitar solos, Dylan’s harmonica (I guess technically some of them could be Petty as well), Lynne’s production, it’s all on display and musically this album is just fantastic. I really loved “7 Deadly Sins” which sounded like it would have been right at home in the late 50s or early 60s and no one would have known. “Poor House” grated on me right from the start, as it’s all the twangy parts of country I just can’t stand, but if you’re into that style you’ll like it, as it is spot on for what it is. If you don’t pay attention to the lyrics at all on this album, you’ll likely have very little complaints.

It’s interesting to me that all four of these men can generate some great lyrics while working solo, but when they get together they seem to be almost afraid to lean too far into their own narrative voices too much, and so we end up with things that are downright generic at times. “Where Were You Last Night?” is the worst of this, where they literally end up leaning on sad-mad-bad rhymes that make it seem like they weren’t even trying at all. Most of the others aren’t that egregious, but they still feel a little uninspired, like none of these songs have any personal meaning to them, maybe they wanted to hold on to those for their solo albums or something. To be fair, it’s not all bad though. “Cool Dry Place” stands out, as while not a song with depth, and no doubt inspired by one of them reading “store in a cool dry place” on a label somewhere, they end up having a lot of fun with it. The lyrics are clever and the descriptions work. The “Wilbury Twist” also feels very much just like they put the music on and started riffing on top of it together, you can hear the smiles on their faces as they take turns coming up with the next line.

If you watch the music videos they made for this album, the one thing you’ll notice is that all of them feature the four of them smiling and laughing through their performances. It highlights well that this is clearly still an album of friends coming together to make music and having a lot of fun with it. Which does kind of make you wonder why they never did it again. While this album wasn’t as financially successful as the previous one, this definitely feels a lot more like a passion project than it does something done for the money. Of course, George also never released another solo album in his lifetime, with his final release being put out the year after he passed. So it may just be that he entered yet another period where he just wasn’t interested in releasing music, and that’s okay.

Singles released around this time:

“Nobody’s Child” – A cover of a Cy Coben song that they released as a charity single to help Romanian orphans, George changed the second verse to specifically speak to their plight. This is about as depressing as a song can get. I salute their efforts to help the children, but this one is very hard to get through.

“Runaway” – A much more fun cover of the Del Shannon song. Lynne takes the lead and the “why why why” bits are just as fun to sing here as they are on the original.

“Cheer Down” – This one is technically a George Harrison song rather than Traveling Wilburys, but Tom Petty gets writing credit for helping George to finish it and Jeff Lynne both produced and sang/played on the track. It does still feel very much like one of his solo songs though rather than another Wilbury track. At least listening to it right after all the others I definitely noticed a change in style.

Next Time: Paul makes his first dive into classical music with Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Oratorio, and I figure out if I can properly critique classical music in the same way I do these pop albums.

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