The Wilburys were to release two albums of original compositions during their brief time together. While both are clearly more than a respectable listen, the first one is unanimously hailed as the Traveling Wilburys album.
Topping and tailing the record are the two tunes in which every member sings something at a point or other of the song. These are the Harrison-penned “Handle With Care” and the country-happy “End Of The Line”. The former seems like a combination made in heaven, as Harrison basically sings the lead during the verses, and then Roy Orbison sings a bridge that leads into a sing-along chorus by the rest of the band. Orbison’s contribution (a quavering plea) is a moment which moves me personally, and I bet many of those who listen to the song feel the same way. On the other hand, “End Of The Line” is a very uplifting way to close the record, and its message of optimism is all the more compelling because it feels incredible genuine – even Dylan sings like he truly means it. And those might as well have been his darkest years, keep that in mind.
Speaking of Dylan, he contributes a narrative which resembles “Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts” in terms of content and “Hurricane” in terms of structure. It is named “Tweeter And The Monkey Man”, and some fans go as far as to call it one of his best songs from the period. The song is the penultimate track on the album, and it is the one and only composition that goes over the 5.00 mark. The rest all clock at 3.00 on average.
For its part, Tom Petty has a reggae sendup in which is called “Last Night”. One would have expected him to provide a harder-rocking number, but no – he lets his hair loose formidably and comes up with a standout comedy tune. The amps were to be turned up for the second Wilbury’s record.
Roy Orbison’s solo spotlight is the theatrical “Not Alone Anymore”. Again, it is a supple vehicle for his trademark delivery – a delivery that clearly overcomes the campiness of the effects that have been added.
The least Wilbury-like song available might as well be Harrison’s “Heading For The Light” – it is too much of a “Cloud 9” spiritual song to fit in smugly among the other tunes.
The production of the album fell on Jeff Lynne, and I must say he did a good job. The one and only song whose production was a bit heavy-handed was “Margarita”. It is easily the song that would merit a “filler” label.
In general terms, the album is gentle and refreshing. Its songs about love are graceful. The reflections about life are sometimes serious – Petty’s song, for example, deals with something which is grave, but the manner he sings and the conclusion to the song simply seem to be saying “S*** happens. Just carry on”. And that is the same message conveyed by “End Of The Line”. The Wilburys were capable of creating a piece of vinyl that for 40 minutes could truly take the listener away from daily concerns and minutia, because of who they were: true friends who knew how to share these small things that in retrospect are monumental, and to downplay negativity right away. You have an ex-Beatle, an original icon of rock & roll, a master of words like Dylan… we all connected with one member or the other at one point during our lives. And if the link had been lost along the way, “The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1” presented it back to us in a way so charming that we never lost it again. It became “a solid bond in your heart”, to quote Paul Weller. If you are familiar with the work of any of these guys, this is a must. And if you are not, you will never catch them on a roll like this one elsewhere.