Triple Play: The Traveling Wilburys
Review by PJV
Wilton Bulletin — December 14, 1988
Volume One | The Traveling Wilburys | ★★★★
When Roy Orbison died last week, he went out in style.
On this album by the spontaneous supergroup the Traveling Wilburys, Roy Orbison showed his voice was as powerful as ever. When the album’s focus turns to Roy, he evokes his typical despair over heartache and loneliness. As he sings on Not Alone Any More, “It hurts like never before.” This is vintage Orbison and it’s something more. Here, more than on their solo recordings, Orbison and his cohorts show their audience a homey warmth, in a relaxed, off-the-cuff style of humor.
And what a group of cohorts this is: Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne (the former leader of the orchestral-pop band ELO). It’s an unorthodox supergroup — live lead guitarists — but it works. They share the burden of the billing and the songwriting so well and evenly, they are relaxed enough to have fun and get rootsy.
Not that Roy Orbison needs to find his roots. He was one of rock ‘n’ roll’s pioneers and a fine balladeer — perhaps rock’s greatest. He scored early on with rockers like Ooby Dooby and Rock House, then hit his stride with ballads including Only the Lonely and Cryin’. The range of his quavering-yet-clear tenor was amazing.
It still is. On his showpiece on this album, the ballad Not Alone Any More, Orbison sings clearly and smoothly and his emotional force is penetrating. It’s the kind of song that makes you wonder what would have come of the solo album he was working on lately.
It’s interesting to see the contrasts with solo albums. Dylan’s records of late have been very uneven. Here, his twisted humor comes through, and he is obviously having fun. George Harrison has been criticized with getting too preachy in his solo efforts but his songs here are bouncy and buoyant. Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne also come through with the great reggae Last Night and rockabilly Rattled, respectively.
Handle With Care is a catchy single — a Harrison/Orbison tune with a clunky Dylan/Petty chorus. Mr. Orbison, with words he could trademark, takes the bridge: “I’m so tired of being lonely/I still have some love to give.