Judge Eric Profancik writes a long letter on a short piece of website.
"She wrote a long letter on a short piece of paper."—Tom Petty, "Margarita"
I could take a lesson from that brief snippet of lyric: get to the point. That's not my style, and I tend to ramble on a bit. That's not going to change in this review, as talking about The Traveling Wilburys is a trip down memory lane. The music stirs many a remembrance and odd tale from the past 20 years. Further, as this release is two music CDs with a bonus DVD, the emphasis is actually on the music and not the DVD, which has minimal material to discuss. I am not a music critic, but I will do my best to convince you to pick up this collection. It's great music that disappeared for too long.
To talk about The Traveling Wilburys is to talk about George Harrison. To talk about George Harrison is to talk about his album Cloud Nine. To talk about Cloud Nine is to talk about The Traveling Wilburys. It's a perfect, circular story. Let's begin with Harrison and his 1987 album Cloud Nine. First, this is an excellent album. It received some good press and decent airplay due to its catchy release of "Got My Mind Set on You" and it sparked a small comeback for the former Beatle. (As with most albums, the popular release wasn't necessarily the best song on the album, which displays a wide array of styles. Take a listen to "Just for Today" for some heartfelt melodies.) With this popularity, you might remember back in the Dark Ages (before iTunes) that music companies actually released singles. Yes, you went out and bought—at this point in history—a cassette with two songs on it. Needing a B-side for his next single, "Cloud Nine," fortuitous timing yielded an amazing collaboration with Harrison and friends Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, and Bob Dylan. Just having fun, they recorded a song, "Handle with Care," and submitted it for George's B-side. The record company realized this song was too good for this purpose and asked if George and his friends could make a few more songs for a full album release instead.
They did, and so was born The Traveling Wilburys. An amazing collection of musically talented friends, just getting together and writing great music, they released Volume 1 in 1988. The album sold brilliantly. As everyone in this group was getting great press and praise, tragedy struck and Roy Orbison passed away just two months after the album's release. Would this mark the end of the group? No. They released one more album in 1990, Volume 3. Not as good as the first album, both were pulled from print and have been unavailable for years.
This release rectifies this oversight, returning The Traveling Wilburys to store shelves to allow the next generation to learn of and appreciate this fine group of musicians.
I am proud to say that I bought both of these albums back in the day. Volume 1 is a superb collection of music with some utterly fantastic songs. Volume 3 didn't equal its predecessor, and, in fact, I sold that CD soon after buying it and really haven't missed it. That first CD is golden, and it's been good enough to sustain me for this time. (It's a proud member of my iPod.)
Some twenty years later, listening to Volume 3 again, I still feel it isn't as good as that first album; but it isn't as weak as I once thought. It has some quality tunes on it, but it also suffers from trying to live up to the other album. How else can you explain the ridiculously silly "Wilbury Twist"? So, all in all, these two CDs contain some superb music; stuff that sounds as fresh and exciting as it did decades ago. These guys are having fun, and it comes through in spades. If you've never heard a Wilburys' tune, you're doing yourself a grand disservice.
And that's the bottom line: With or without any DVD bonus material, this music collection from The Traveling Wilburys is wonderful music. In comparing this re-release to my original CD copy, I found that this release is superior. The sound is cleaner, clearer, bolder, brighter, richer, and you can simply hear more from the tracks. It's an absolute improvement over the old release, and fans should easily consider the double-dip for the improvement in audio quality. If that weren't enough, there are two new tracks on each CD. On Volume 1, new tracks are "Maxine" and "Like a Ship." For Volume 2, new tracks are "Nobody's Child" and "Runaway." The strongest of the four is "Maxine," with the classic Wilbury sound. "Runaway" is the oddest addition as that it's a cover of Del Shannon's song. (It might make more sense considering that Del was a once-whispered successor to Roy.)
This two-CD set does contain a DVD with some slim bonus pickings. This "Volume 2" contains the featurette "The True History of the Traveling Wilburys" (25 minutes). It's a nice little piece made up of some old interview audio and some camcorder material shot while these guys were together making Volume 1. It's quite casual and relaxed, and you can see the genesis and evolution of a song over the course of a day. Let me emphasize that: You watch as the five men write and record each song in one day. Astounding! As remarkable as that feat is, the featurette is something you'll only need to watch once. Presented in full frame with a PCM audio track, you're not watching this for any measure of quality. It's the CDs you're buying, not the DVD. Also included are the Wilburys' five music videos for "Handle with Care," "End of the Line," "She's My Baby," "Inside Out," and "Wilbury Twist." Again, video is simple full frame and the audio's more PCM. Sadly, outside of the simple tribute to Roy in "End of the Line," these are wholly unspectacular videos. The guys just aren't showman…in this incarnation.
In closing, let me share one odd tale about the Wilburys, to show how stupid I can be. Earlier I listed the five members of the band; quite recognizable names to any music fan, casual or otherwise. Well, for years I had no idea who Jeff Lynne was. The man of the large permed hair was a mystery, yet I never made much effort to figure why he was a Wilbury. I liked his voice, but didn't know he was the lead singer of ELO. Now keep in mind this was pre-Internet, but still. A few years back when ELO released Zoom, I finally made the connection.
The music was pulled from the shelves for years, and now it is back. Truthfully, the DVD is nothing. It's all about the music, and The Traveling Wilburys made some great music that is warmly welcomed back.
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