You know how they say absence makes the heart grow fonder?
When The Traveling Wilburys' debut album came around the first time in the eighties, I all but ignored it. Not that the idea of people like George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty getting together for an all-star dream jam wasn't one to salivate over, but for me, the spoiler factor (at least at the time) was the involvement of Jeff Lynne.
Now, of course, I realize that all great producers from Phil Spector to Rick Rubin tend to have a way of leaving their own unique mark on the artists they produce, but to me, the records that Lynne — who at that time, was in great demand as a producer — oversaw all sounded more like his own records than those of the actual artist.
Which again, is okay if you are Phil Spector producing the Ronettes or The Crystals.
But when Lynne produced Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever for example, what my ears heard was more Lynne than Petty. At the time, the post-ELO sound Lynne seemed to be going for sounded more to me like a kind of second rate Dave Edmunds circa the album Repeat When Necessary. Seriously, I know that album is hard to find now, but if you ever get the chance, listen to Edmunds' "Queen Of Hearts" from Repeat When Necessary, and Petty's "Running Down A Dream" from Full Moon Fever back to back, and you tell me that there are not some similarities there.
I'm surprised Lynne didn't just ask Dave Edmunds to become a Wilbury.
But anyway, like I said above — absence, or in this case the passage of time, does indeed make the heart grow fonder. Well, that and the fact that every time I've heard the song "Handle With Care" on the radio since, I've become more upset with myself for not getting the album way back then. I've also long since come around as far as Jeff Lynne goes, and that includes his work on Petty's Full Moon Fever.
So Rhino has gone and released both Traveling Wilburys records — Vol. 1, the original one with all the well-known hits; and the lesser known, but equally good Vol. 3 — together as The Traveling Wilburys Collection. The package also includes a DVD with all the Wilbury videos and a history of the band, as well as a number of rare bonus tracks. For the record, there never was a Traveling Wilburys Vol. 2.
For the casual fan, the big draw here is obviously going to be the first Wilburys disc, as it contains all the songs that fans know best. These include "Handle With Care," one of the best, and most effortless sounding pop tunes of the eighties — and maybe one of the best ever. The way Harrison's voice here blends effortlessly with those of Orbison, Petty, Lynne — and even Dylan — are really what make this song the true gem it is. Also here are other MTV and radio favorites of the time like "End Of The Line" and "Last Night."
Harrison, Orbison, Petty, and Lynne are in fine voice throughout this album. But again, the biggest surprise here is Dylan. At the time this album came out, Dylan was in both a creative and commercial slump. Although I think the fine Oh Mercy album might have come out somewhere around this time, Dylan's other eighties output on releases like Knocked Out Loaded is mostly forgettable.
On the Wilbury's debut, Dylan on the other hand seems to be completely energized by playing with these guys on such songs as "Dirty World" and especially "Tweeter And The Monkey Man." Bonus tracks here include the previously unreleased "Maxine" and "Like A Ship."
On Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3, things start out on a considerably more rocking note with "She's My Baby." This song begins as a bit of a rave up — with Lynne and Petty trading off verses — and ends up with Dylan growling out his parts in a voice that predates his current work on records like Modern Times. The rock groove continues with "Inside Out," before settling into the more familiar down home pop of the first album with "If You Belonged To Me," a track powered along by mandolin and Dylan's harmonica.
Tom Petty gets his chance to shine on "The Devil's Been Busy," a track that has a Byrds like twang, but otherwise sounds like it could have come from Full Moon Fever. Dylan, Harrison, and Lynne all get their turns here of course. But for the first time on the record you start to really miss Roy Orbison's presence. Orbison, of course had already passed on by this time.
"Seven Deadly Sins" has a nice 1950's feel to it, and kind of reminds me of that "two silhouettes on the shade" song. The original artist on that one escapes my memory at the moment. "Poor House" has the most country twang of anything here, and comes close to the feel of Ringo Starr's turn on the Beatles version of "Act Naturally." The closing "Wilbury Twist" — probably the closest thing to a hit on the album — is to quote the lyrics, just plain falling down on your ass fun.
Like the first Wilbury's record, there is really not a bad track on Vol. 3, which almost makes you wonder why the record didn't produce the hits that Vol. 1 did. If anything, there is a lot more variety in the mix on the underated Vol. 3. Bonus tracks here include the rarely heard "Nobody's Child" and a cover of Del Shannon's "Runaway."