Saturday, August 23, 2014

LP of the Week - "Traveling Wilburys, Volume One" (1988)

So what happens when a group of stars, superstars, and living legends decides to get together, work on a few tracks, have some fun and record an album?

One answer, and perhaps the best one, is "Traveling Wilburys, Volume One."  From first track to last, it's an absolute delight, without pretensions or any notion that the resulting work product was intended to be anything more than a bunch of really talented guys having fun and proving that you don't always have to serve up a plate of deep meaning with your rock 'n roll meal.

For those who weren't lucky enough to be there at the time, the Wilburys consisted of Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, and George Harrison.  Ably assisted by old session hands Jim Keltner, Jim Horn and Ray Cooper, the old codgers came up with 10 pop songs that at the time were as good as anything any of them had recorded in quite a while.

And that's nothing to sneeze at; let's just consider Dylan for a moment.  Over the course of the 1980s he'd released a series of albums that, while they contained some good songs, threatened to tarnish the legacy of a man who had long ago established his rightful place at the very top of the pantheon.  He comes in and records a couple of playful albums with the Wilburys ("Volume Two" was very good, but not quite at the level of the original), and the next thing you know, he's on the comeback trail, first with a couple of good electric LPs, followed by a couple of classic acoustic sets, and then a series of masterpieces as good as anything the man recorded during the height of his Sixties powers.  His "Congratulations" and "Tweeter and the Monkey Man" are probably the two best songs on the record, but more importantly, they are the songs on which Dylan seems to have rediscovered his sense of humor.  Whether "Tweeter" is an homage to Bruce Springsteen or just Dylan playfully making fun of him doesn't really matter; what's important is that he once again demonstrates the wordplay that...well, made him Bob Dylan.

But those are hardly the only good songs on the album.  Both "Handle With Care" and "Heading for the Light" are top-notch Harrison tunes, Orbison's "Not Alone Any More" is better than anything he recorded for his comeback album produced by Bono, and both Petty and Lynne contribute lightweight but immediately catchy and danceable tunes that are akin to the icing on the cake.

It won't likely go down as the best thing that any of them ever recorded, but what the heck - every now and then, boys just want to have fun.

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