Just two years after the smashing success of their debut, The Traveling Wilburys returned in 1990 for a second round of roots-rock supergrouping that they titled, with typical tongue-in-cheek, Volume 3. Alas, they were missing a family member after the death of Roy Orbison, but Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and George Harrison soldiered on to far less media attention and sales. Here is a track-by-track review.
11. “New Blue Moon”- Lynne was essential to the group for his expert production and his ubiquitous vocal harmonies, but none of the songs on which he took lead in the group’s brief existence ever took off. This breezy number is just well-played filler.
10. “Seven Deadly Sins”- While the idea of Dylan singing lead in a doo-wop group has a certain subversive flair, it’s not enough to carry this one very far past pleasant inconsequentiality.
9. “Poor House”- Petty’s offbeat humor comes to the fore on this hootenanny, aided by Lynne’s yelping backing vocals and Harrison’s ever-fetching slide guitar. One of the most fun tracks on the album, even if it’s easily forgettable once it’s over.
8. “The Devil’s Been Busy”- The second Wilburys album was generally a shade darker than the first, perhaps reflecting the loss they had suffered when Orbison passed away. This track, which gets a nice boost from Harrison’s sitar, is bitingly cynical, a trait that would have sounded out of place on Volume 1. Dylan gets off the best line here, directed to the victims of corrupt power: “Sometimes you’re better off now knowing how much you’ve been had.”
7. “You Took My Breath Away”- Jeff Lynne produced two Tom Petty albums to continue their professional relationship, including Highway Companion in 2006. There’s a lovely ballad on that album called “Damaged By Love,” and you can hear the seeds of that song on “You Took My Breath Away.” The lyrics aren’t as polished on the Wilburys number, but the overall pace and production makes the songs pretty much first cousins.
6. “Where Were You Last Night?”- Both Wilburys album are consistently strong, but the second one lacks any true classics along the line of “Not Enough Anymore” or “Tweeter And The Monkey Man.” Songs like “Where Were You Last Night?,” an amiable ode to romantic suspicion coughed out by Dylan with Harrison helping out, rule the day. It gets by just fine on charm and professionalism but lacks the songwriting spark that propelled Volume 1.
5. “Cool Dry Place”- We all have storage problems, but musicians probably have to deal with that more than most. I learned that from this bluesy, saxophone-embellished affair that features Petty portraying a cramped instrument collector. So what if not everyone can relate to such an uptown problem? Al least the song has a distinctive point of view, which makes it stand out here.
4. “Wilbury Twist”- As stated above, Volume 3 was a relatively dour affair compared to Volume 1. That all goes out the window on the closing track, when the Wilburys create their own dance which includes, among other distinctive moves, this command from Harrison: “Put your other foot up/Fall on your ass/Get back up/Put your teeth in a glass.” At the time, everyone hoped that the Wilburys would regale us with more music down the road, but, as a closing statement by this casual assemblage of superstars, “Wilbury Twist” is as fitting as could be.
3. “Inside Out”- Environmental concerns seem to be at the heart of this song, although the lyrics work better as a series of one-liners rather than as a coherent whole. What carries the day is the group interplay, as Dylan takes the verses, Petty the refrains, and Harrison the bridge, while Lynne adds harmony to them all in an MVP performance. This one has the effortless bounce and swing of the first album, with walled acoustic guitars and Jim Keltner’s rock steady beat doing much of the heavy lifting.
2. “She’s My Baby”- As great as the first album was, there was nothing on there that really rocked. “She’s My Baby” takes care of that right from the bludgeoning opening riff. Keltner, as usual, is crucial, and Gary Moore comes aboard to play a fierce lead guitar and a sprinting solo. The lyrics are reminiscent of Vol. 1’s “Dirty World” in their reliance on double entendres and wink-wink, nudge-nudge sexual references, that is until Dylan (who else?) gets right to the heart of it: “She like to stick her tongue right down my throat.”
1. “If You Belonged to Me”- The band’s willingness to trade jobs and share the limelight on the second album is commendable, but the finest song, ironically enough, is the one where a single band member takes center stage. In this case, it’s Dylan, pulling one of his acidic love songs out of the holster and singing it with just the right mix of wounded pride and thinly-veiled disgust. His harmonica solo is typically stellar, and the acoustic guitar mix behind him is pristine. As a matter of fact, Harrison liked the arrangement so much that he essentially re-wrote the lyrics and presented it as “Any Road,” the lead track on his final solo album Brainwashed.
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What started out as a George Harrison session featuring a few buddies turned into the Traveling Wlburys, and never has the term “supergroup” been more accurately applied. On Traveling Wilburys Vol.1, Harrison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison come together for an album that rivaled the biggest hits the men ever had as individuals. Here is a track-by-track review.
10. “Margarita”- This is the one song on the album where the laid-back atmosphere crosses the fine line into silliness, and it’s also the one time when Lynne’s production gets a tad overbearing.
9. “Rattled”- Lynne has always been adept at mimicking mint-condition rockabilly, and here he hets his Jerry Lee Lewis on with the help of Jim Keltner’s muscular beat. Bonus points for getting Orbison to recreate his “Pretty Woman” “R” roll.
8. “Congratulations”- Dylan sounds so woeful here that you fear he might collapse rather than finish this tongue-in-cheek tale of misery. The Wilburys chime in with staggering backing vocals that make them sound like the world’s most harmonious chain gang.
7. “Heading For The Light”- This one sounds like it could have fit in on Harrison’s Cloud Nine album, which was essentially the impetus for the Wilburys anyway. Bouncy horns accentuate the upbeat tune, and you can hear the fun that the Quiet Beatle is having with his friends.
6. “Dirty World”- This is Dylan at his most off-the-cuff and mischievous, tossing off brazen double-entendres in an attempt to win over a girl from her new man. The random call-and-response session from the other Wilburys at song’s end is inspired as well. This song would seem slight in lesser hands, but here it’s a rollicking blast.
5. “Last Night”- Petty gets his showcase in this tale of a one-night stand gone horribly awry. There is something subversive and hilarious in the way that his deadpan vocals are interspersed with the golden tones of Orbison. It’s never clear just what fate befalls the narrator, but when he surmises at songs’ end that “All I got is this song,” it’s a pretty good consolation.
4. “Handle With Care”- Harrison’s dry humor gets a workout in this song that started the whole Wilburys phenomenon off. His protagonist is just looking for a little bit of tenderness after getting knocked around a bit by life, and some of the complaints sound like they hit pretty close to home (especially when he claims that he’s been “overexposed, commercialized.”) George’s slide guitar and Dylan’s harmonica turn out to be an inspired combination.
3. “End Of The Line”- This is another song where the juxtaposition of the disparate voices produces fantastic results. Harrison, Lynne, and Orbison trade off on the verses, reassuring listeners with the “It’s all right” refrain even as all mattersof hypothetical disasters loom in the distance. Petty serves as the wry counterpoint, making small talk about his car and Jimi Hendrix. This is the song where Lynne’s back-porch production is at its finest.
2. “Tweeter And The Monkey Man”- We can’t say for sure if the Wilburys ever considered including Bruce Springsteen in their little party, but he’s here in spirit thanks to Dylan’s hilarious parody. Thanks to some slinky horns and the catchy “And the walls came down” refrain, you don’t need to know any Boss references to enjoy the song. Yet if you do, you’ll find yourself chuckling along even as you admire Dylan’s ingenious tale of a bizarre love quadrangle featuring bullets, car chases, and gender confusion.
1. “Not Alone Anymore”- Jeff Lynne is most likely the author of this song (his publishing company holds the copyright), so he deserves credit for crafting a weeper that can hold its own with colossal Roy Orbison classics like “Crying,” “Running Scared,” and “It’s Over.” The rest is all Orbison, using perhaps the most iconic voice in rock music history to take the whole thing to stratospheric levels of heartache. There won’t be a dry eye in the house by the time this one is through.
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