The Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1 (Remastered 2016)

The Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1 (Remastered 2016)

One of the joys of being a fan of The Traveling Wilburys—the short-lived supergroup featuring Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne—was just how ridiculous the whole thing seemed to everyone involved. These were high-wattage guys with reputations to protect and legacies to uphold. Yet the members of the Wilburys treated their 1988 debut album as little more than an affectionate joke. And by this point in their respective careers, these dudes deserved a little fun. Even Petty, the youngest of the bunch—and arguably the one with the most left to prove—was by then a multiplatinum rock star with greater claim to the legacy of Dylan and the Beatles than most of his peers. Why shouldn’t he relieve himself of his artistic imperative, and goof around for once? More than a band, though, the Wilburys were friends. And like any group of friends, they didn’t have a leader, so much as they had a dynamic—a group chemistry that stemmed from each individual’s musical character, which they express throughout Vol. 1. Lynne’s pop pastiche on “Margarita”; Orbison’s operatic spotlight on “Not Alone Anymore”; Dylan’s cranky lamentation on “Congratulations”: You can hear each member playing around with the trademark sounds that had made people love them in the first place. And you can tell that, to these guys, having fun was a crucial a part of the creative process (especially for Dylan, who didn’t do a lot of smiling in the 1980s, yet who seems to be having a blast on Vol. 1). Even the album’s songs about aging and mortality—“Handle With Care,” “Heading For the Light,” “End of the Line”—feel light, more celebrations of the present than preparations for the future. It was a future that came faster than the band members might have expected: Vol. 1 was released in mid-October; by year’s end, Oribison would be dead at the age of 52. Petty remembers getting a call from him a few days beforehand, to talk about how great it was that they’d gone platinum—a bittersweet moment, but a fitting one. They’d earned these golf carts, and they’d be damned if they weren’t gonna take them for a spin.

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