How gratifying was it to see that The Traveling Wilburys recently debuted at #9 in the U.S. and at #1 in the U.K. with The Traveling Wilburys Collection (Rhino/Wilbury), a three-disc compilation that includes both of their albums (1988's Volume 1 and 1990's Volume 3) and a making-of DVD? Said albums have been out of print for some time, so clearly there was a demand for the collected works of Lucky/Boo, Otis/Clayton, Charlie T. Jnr/Muddy, Lefty, and Nelson/Spike Wilbury. (That's Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, and George Harrison, for the uninitiated.)
I have both of the original CDs - and, naturally, LPs - and also half of the bonus tracks in, shall we say, inferior versions, but it's nice to own all official things Wilbury under one digipak (and/or deluxe edition). And vinyl reissues are indeed on the horizon, something I obviously applaud.
Like many, I prefer Volume 1 to Volume 3 overall. The tone for both is essentially jaunty - the Wilburys are clearly having fun making this music - and the production is very much steeped in that late-'80s ubiquitous Jeff Lynne ELOish sound heard on other such gems as Harrison's Cloud Nine (1987) and Petty's Full Moon Fever (1989). A bit dated now, for sure, but the production is a strong centering point for songs that could've easily come across as, well, Lazy Wilburys. Dylan, who some felt lost his rudder in the latter half of that decade, shines on tracks like "Congratulations" and his alleged Springsteen tweak, "Tweeter and the Monkey Man." Meanwhile, Petty rides his quirks high on "Last Night" and "Inside Out." And the round-robin approach featuring every Wilburyian strength simply shines on "Handle With Care," "End of the Line," "She's My Baby," and "Wilbury Twist." (Sidenote: Seek out Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins' savory "Handle" cover on 2006's Rabbit Fur Coat.) Sweet harmonies, shimmering acoustics, bouncy lyrics - what's not to love?
The 25-minute "True History" documentary on the DVD is a real treat. Video quality is VHS at best, but that's excusable; this here's historical stuff, pardners. The Wilbs break down most every song on the first album and you see them gathered and playful at Dave Stewart's house while the loose sessions go down. I think I got the biggest kick from watching Jim Keltner drumming on the shelves of the refrigerator for percussion that made its way onto "Rattled." For this project, whatever worked, worked.
Finally, the five videoclips are worthwhile since two of the principals (Lefty and Nelson/Spike) are no longer with us.
Petty described the group this way: "A bunch of friends who happened to be good at making music." And early on in the doc, Harrison mused, "It happened by magic." Whatever the case, we get to reap the rewards anew. Bury yourself in this one. -Jonas U. Wilbury (AKA Mike Mettler)