Wilburys release witty mix of folk, pop
By Bill Goldstein
American University Eagle — November 12, 1990
Long hailed as the kings of rock ‘n’ roll, the Traveling Wilburys’ newest album “Volume III” is the best of its kind. Then again, with no Volume II, it’s a joke which only a supergroup could think of.
Rock superstars George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty have taken a concept album and turned it into a piece of folk-art pop that will no doubt be remembered long in the future.
“Volume III” was an accident just waiting to happen. Just as they did for its predecessor, “Volume I” — although regrettably without the late Roy Orbison — the four gathered in a small Los Angeles recording studio. With nothing prepare, they began to play the first thing that came to their heads. From the folksy-sounding “You Took My Breath Away” to the chart-hopping “She’s My Baby,” the Wilburys’ acoustic sound make each song unique and an instant hit.
The album’s presentation is fabulous. So the public wouldn’t get caught in the nostalgia of four superstars making a record, the group’s members assumed the alibis of four hick guitar players lamenting about their travels from home.
Accompanying the record is a hilarious history of the Wilburys, presumably credited to Eric Idle of Monty Python fame. “The Traveling Wilburys is an obvious anagram of ‘V. Burying Will’s Theatre,’ clearly a reference to the closing of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre by Villiers during an outbreak of plague.”
The Wilburys are unique in their own right. Dylan (Boo Wilbury) sings with his trademark cut-and-dry sound on “If You Belonged To Me.” His harmonica playing is reminiscent of his first big hit, “Like a Rolling Stone.”
Harrison (Spike Wilbury) also shows that his comeback in the past few years is no fluke. Throughout the album, and especially on his hard rocking “She’s My Baby,” his eerie-sounding guitar riffs recalls his days with the Beatles when he played in India for the Maharajah.
Petty (Muddy Wilbury) plays along as the supposed younger brother of the Wilbury family. He delivers a deliriously funny tune, “Poor House,” describing the problems the Wilburys run into without any money.
Petty’s vocals and lyrics make this album a great follow-up to his excellent outing as a solo artist. His 12-string guitar fills the room with chords that mirror his work on “The Apartment Song.”
Finishing off the fab four is Lynne (Clayton Wilbury). Although this former genius of the ’70s group Electric Light Orchestra produced the album, his vocals take a front-row seat. His lyrics to “The Wilbury Twist” romp on the latest dance fads.
Lynne finally has found his niche with the Wilburys and with Harrison’s creative juices. His entire goal with ELO was to recreate the sound of the Beatles’ later material. His unique sound has graced such albums as Randy Newman’s “Land Of Dreams” and all of the Wilburys’ latest solo material.
Although a couple of the songs on “Volume III” are pretty forgettable, they all have their own life. Each song tells a story invoking the band’s own brand of humor.
The songs’ simple lyrics, most written by Dylan and Petty, aren’t meant to make any serious comments about the world or our place in it. Unlike many artists trying to make us socially conscious, the Wilburys’ music is a comical, breezy approach to life — take things as they come and try to be happy.