Friday, September 25, 2009

Traveling Wilburys 1: Volume One

Supergroups have usually sounded so exciting on paper that in these cynical times you have to check the source of info to gather whether the latest superstar meeting is a rumor or a gag. No one—not even George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan or Roy Orbison—could have predicted the quality of the first Traveling Wilburys album, especially when “Handle With Care” was so good. The single, originally recorded as a one-off, is three-and-a-half minutes of fun that showcases the best of what each have to offer. And when Bob and Roy get to harmonize on the bridge, it’s a beautiful moment. (This listener practically fell on the floor laughing so hard at how well they made the combination work.)
That was the catalyst, and the boys managed to stretch that sense of fun into nine other tracks for a full LP’s worth of tunes. For the most part, the tracks on Volume One highlight individuals: “Dirty World” is mostly Bob trying to be Prince, with interjections at the end that hint at substance; “Rattled” is mostly Jeff; “Last Night” features Tom; “Not Alone Anymore” is a showcase for Roy that would have fit fine on his upcoming (Lynne-produced) album.
“Congratulations” is all Bob, and better than most of his last couple of albums. “Heading For The Light” is as good as anything George had written, and a really happy tune. The weird “Margarita” features everyone, and that may be the only point of the song. “Tweeter & The Monkey Man” is an odd Springsteen pastiche, again more geared towards Bob. “End Of The Line” conjures images of the video, made after Roy died, and shows George still getting all kinds of mileage out of a D chord.
Volume One is much better than it deserves to be, and still refreshing to hear today. What endures is the sense of warmth, silliness and fun that made the album so special. It sold by the bucket, even to younger listeners who weren’t aware that these guys were in other bands before. It boosted the careers of both Roy and Tom, made Dylan relevant again and gave Jeff license to plaster that drum sound everywhere. (Jim Keltner must be an absolute gentleman for not punching him out.)
Strangely, but not surprising considering all the record companies that had a stake in these five pseudonyms, the album was out of print for quite a while. When it was finally reissued in 2007 as part of a two-CD-plus-DVD set, it included two unreleased bonus tracks from the sessions for the second album: George’s “Maxine” and Bob’s “Like A Ship”.

Traveling Wilburys Volume One (1988)—4
2007 rerelease: same as 1988, plus 2 extra tracks

4 comments:

  1. Great, great fun music, and even greater for being so unexpected at the time. I remember myself reacting as you did when I got to hear those Bob & Roy harmonies, and many other higlights on the record: pure joy. I found adorable (and still find them) "Congratulations", "Handle with care", "Heading for the light", "Not alone anymore", "End of the line", the funny Springsteen-by-numbers "Tweeter" and even Lynne's "Rattle". As a big Dylan fan, I also remember that I thought this was going to bring him back from the dead (not a joke with that Dylan & the Dead artifact), and in some weird way it did.

    Please excuse my English, I'm Spanish. Great page, congratulations.

    Nacho

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  2. There are worse things in the world than Traveling Wilburys Volume One including, but not limited to, The Plague, porky curtains and the Big Mac. You nailed it by making mention of a “sense of warmth, silliness and fun,” because the boys of Charles Truscott Wilbury, Sr., never seem as though they’re taking any of it remotely seriously. So we shouldn’t, either. Volume One has no business being good, but is, and was a pleasant surprise when SOMEONE introduced me to it.

    And regardless of context, there’s something hilarious in “Bob trying to be Prince.” Now THAT’S funny.

    Thanks, Wardo.

    JT

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  3. You forgot about the other extra, the fun "Runaway" cover (or maybe I' thinking of Vol. 3?). Really love that track. The official version makes it seem like Bob was out of the studio that day, but out in Bootleg Land there's a version that features his harmonica. Oddly, it was stripped out and overdubbed for the released take.

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  4. Have no fear -- I'll be complaining about the redone "Runaway" in a future post.

    Nacho -- your English is just fine.

    JT -- my pleasure.

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