Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Traveling Wilburys: “The Traveling Wilburys Collection” (2016) CD Review

I was never all that fond of the term “supergroup,” but the one band to which the term undeniably applies is The Traveling Wilburys. This group was made up of Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty. They put out two albums, Volume 1 and Volume 3, and had several hits, including “Handle With Care,” “End Of The Line” and “She’s My Baby.” By the time Volume 3 was recorded, Roy Orbison had died. We’ve since lost George Harrison as well. The albums went out of print, then came back as a deluxe package in 2007, which then also went out of print. Now that deluxe three-disc set is back in print, and also is available for the first time on streaming services. This set includes two CDs (the band’s two albums, plus bonus tracks) and one DVD, as well as a nice liner notes booklet. It’s absolutely wonderful to revisit these songs. There is such joy, such a sense of fun to these tracks.

Disc One: Traveling Wilburys Volume 1

The first disc contains the complete first album, along with a couple of bonus tracks. The CD opens with “Handle With Care,” a song that was originally intended as a flip side to George Harrison’s “This Is Love,” but which ended up beginning something much greater. It’s an excellent song, and was a hit for the group, though shockingly only reached #45 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Everybody’s got somebody to lean on/Put your body next to mine and dream on/I’ve been uptight and made a mess/But I’ll clean up myself, I guess/Oh, the sweet smell of success/Handle me with care.” It’s followed by “Dirty World,” a fun tune with Bob Dylan on lead vocals. Check out these lines: “You don’t need no wax job/You’re smooth enough for me/If you need your oil changed, I’ll do it for you free/Oh baby, the pleasure be all mine/If you let me drive your pick-up truck/And park it where the sun don’t shine.” Silly, yes, and delightful. “He loves your trembling Wilbury.” “Rattled” is also a whole hell of a lot of fun, with a great rock and roll vibe. Jeff Lynne sings lead on this one.

“Last Night” is another of the CD’s popular tracks, with Tom Petty on lead vocals (though with some great stuff from Roy Orbison as well – “I asked her to marry me/She smiled, and pulled out a knife”). This song is seriously catchy and fun, a tune to get you feeling good. It was always one of my favorites, and has lost none of its charm over the years. But really, there is not a single weak track here. “Last Night” is followed by “Not Alone Any More,” with Roy Orbison on lead vocals. His is one of the best voices in music. I saw him in concert in 1988, the same year this album was recorded, and his voice was amazing. It had lost none of its power or beauty in the decades since his career began.

“Tweeter And The Monkey Man” is one of those great Bob Dylan story songs (like “Hurricane”). According to the documentary (which is included on the second disc of this set), the song was mainly written by Bob Dylan and Tom Petty. Interestingly, it contains the titles to several Bruce Springsteen songs in its lyrics, in lines like “So they hopped into a stolen car, took Highway 99” and “She made secret calls to the Monkey Man from a mansion on the hill/It was out on Thunder Road, Tweeter at the wheel.” The original album then ends with “End Of The Line,” which was also a hit (though this one too didn’t chart as highly as you might expect). “Well, it’s all right.” The first disc contains two bonus tracks: “Maxine” and “Like A Ship.” Both are really good songs. I am particularly fond of “Like A Ship.”

Disc Two: DVD

The DVD features The True History Of The Traveling Wilburys, a twenty-five-minute documentary on the band. Though directed by Willy Smax, this documentary includes footage of the clapboard at the beginning which indicates the director as “Nelson Wilbury,” George Harrison. George Harrison is interviewed at the beginning, and he tells how the band came together, from a dinner he had with Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne. “And I said to Jeff, ‘Look, tomorrow I’m just going in the studio and make up a tune, and do you want to come and help?’” He called Bob Dylan to see if he could record at his studio, then mentions, “My guitar was at Tom Petty’s house.” Crazy, right? The other Wilburys are interviewed as well, talking about how the songs came about. Roy Orbison says that they didn’t spend a lot of time planning anything out. “So we just wrote the best songs that we could write, and sang them as best we could.” There is footage of them writing some of the songs, and the documentary includes interesting anecdotes about how certain tracks, such as “Dirty World,” came about. There is plenty of great footage, including drummer Jim Keltner using the contents of a refrigerator for percussion on “Rattled.” There is also footage from the music video shoots. The guys stress that they were all friends, and that the project was about those friendships.

The DVD also includes music videos for “Handle With Care,” “End Of The Line,” “She’s My Baby,” “Inside Out” and “Wilbury Twist.” Look how happy the guys are in the video for “End Of The Line,” particularly Tom Petty. It’s a joy to watch these videos. And “Wilbury Twist” is a rather silly video featuring appearances by John Candy and Eric Idle at the beginning.

Disc Three: Traveling Wilburys Volume 3

The third disc contains the band’s second (and final) album, playfully titled Volume 3, and two bonus tracks. This album came out in 1990, nearly two years after the death of Roy Orbison, to whom the record was dedicated. The album opens with “She’s My Baby,” which was also released as a single. It’s more of a rock song than any of the tracks on the first album. It’s followed by “Inside Out,” which was also released as a single. Both of these songs are good, but I actually prefer a lot of the other tracks on this record, like “If You Belonged To Me,” which Bob Dylan sings lead on. “Oh, how happy you would be if you belonged to me.” Dylan also plays harmonica on this one.

While this CD might not be quite as much as fun as the first release, it’s still really strong. And it does feature some playful (yet poignant) lyrics, such as these in “The Devil’s Been Busy”: “While you're strolling down the fairway/Showing no remorse/Glowing from the poisons/They've sprayed on your golf course” and “Sometimes you think you’re crazy/But you know you’re only mad.” And “7 Deadly Sins” is certainly fun, sounding as it does like one of those classic doo-wop tunes. There is even the addition of saxophone. And then “Poor House” has a great old-timey folk thing happening, particularly in the vocals, which are delivered like bluegrass. “Everything I do is wrong/I always end up robbed/Woman, I tried so hard/Done all I can do/They’re gonna put me in the poor house/Keep all the best for you.”

“Cool Dry Place” is a fun bluesy tune about musical equipment, with Tom Petty on lead vocals. “I’ve got guitars, basses, amplifiers and drums/Accordions and mandolins and things that sometimes hum.” I like these lines: “I tried to call the lawyer and asked him what to do/He referred me to his doctor who referred me back to you.” The album ends with the silly “Wilbury Twist,” which contains dance instructions. It’s funny, in no small part because of the very idea of people like Bob Dylan and George Harrison creating a dance craze, something that seems far beneath their talents. But the results are totally enjoyable. And besides, the song takes the idea of a dance craze and adapts it to those of us who are getting older: “Lift your other foot up (other foot up)/Fall on your ass (fall on your ass)/Get back up (get back up)/Put your teeth in a glass (teeth in a glass).” This song was released as a single. “I guess by now you’ve got the gist/Everybody’s crazy about the Wilbury Twist.

This disc has two bonus tracks: “Nobody’s Child” and “Runaway.” Both are covers. “Nobody’s Child” was originally released as the title track to the 1990 compilation Nobody’s Child: Romanian Angel Appeal. This song was written by Cy Coben and Mel Foree, and was also covered by Tony Sheridan with The Beatles. I really like the Traveling Wilburys’ version. “Runaway” is the Del Shannon song, written by Del Shannon and Max Crook. This track was originally included as the flip side to “She’s My Baby.”

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Handle With Care
  2. Dirty World
  3. Rattled
  4. Last Night
  5. Not Alone Any More
  6. Congratulations
  7. Heading For The Light
  8. Margarita
  9. Tweeter And The Monkey Man
  10. End Of The Line
  11. Maxine
  12. Like A Ship
Disc Three (Disc Two is the DVD)
  1. She’s My Baby
  2. Inside Out
  3. If You Belonged To Me
  4. The Devil’s Been Busy
  5. 7 Deadly Sins
  6. Poor House
  7. Where Were You Last Night?
  8. Cool Dry Place
  9. New Blue Moon
  10. You Took My Breath Away
  11. Wilbury Twist
  12. Nobody’s Child
  13. Runaway 
The Traveling Wilburys Collection was released on June 3, 2016 through Concord Music Group.

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