From the Vault: 1988

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 July, 2007, 12:00am

The Traveling Wilburys

Volume One

(Warner Bros)

The British release last month of The Traveling Wilburys Collection on Rhino marked the first time the music of that most engaging of rock supergroups had been officially available since the mid-1990s. It entered the album chart at No 1.

The three-disc set comprises 1988's The Traveling Wilburys Volume One and 1990's Volume Three - there was no Volume Two - plus four bonus tracks and a DVD with five promotional videos and a documentary, pieced together largely from camcorder footage shot during the 1988 sessions.

It's all worth having, and the documentary is great to watch because all the participants are clearly having such a thoroughly good time, but for most people the disc that gets revisited most often is the first, which includes the 10 songs originally released on Volume One.

The Wilburys were an unlikely combination, thrown together by chance. George Harrison needed to record a B-side for a single to be taken from his Cloud Nine album. Jeff Lynne was his producer, and was also working on an album for Harrison's old friend Roy Orbison, who he invited along for the session.

Harrison had to pick up a guitar he'd left at another friend Tom Petty's place, and the venue for the recording was Bob Dylan's home studio. Petty had been working with Dylan, so he tagged along as well.

The five came up with Handle With Care which Warner fortunately recognised was much too good - and far too commercial - to throw away as a flip side. It was suggested that the team record enough songs for an album, which they had to do in a hurry because Dylan was about to go on tour. Miraculously they came up with another nine tracks, which included Dylan's best performance in years in Tweeter and the Monkey Man, and Orbison's in Not Alone Any More.

The Lynne and Petty features aren't as impressive, but the songs are all high-quality rootsy pop rock, and I defy anybody who likes that kind of thing to listen to the album without smiling. This is feel-good music, and it has worn very well indeed.

Of the other tracks in the new package, Volume Three was less well received at the time, and mostly serves to underline how important Orbison's contributions were to the first album. He had died before the follow-up was cut, and Del Shannon, who had been nominated to make up the numbers, had committed suicide. A fair cover of Shannon's Runaway is included as one of the bonus tracks.

Most of the music on disc three sounds better now than it did in 1990 when expectations were unreasonably high, but it clearly isn't up to the standards set by the first album.

The kind of chemistry on which this first set was based must have been impossible to repeat without Orbison, and with record company pressure for a second big hit. The three discs cost only as much as a single CD, however, and the first alone fully justifies the investment.