Going retro: An introduction to the music supergroup Traveling Wilburys

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The supergroup concept might have been long dead and gone by the time The Traveling Wilburys arrived on the scene in 1988, but in retrospect, the quintet could easily have been the heaviest and hardest hitters of them all.

Comprising folk hero Bob Dylan, ex-Beatle George Harrison, rock n’ roll legend Roy Orbison, folk rocker Tom Petty and Electric Light Orchestra brainchild Jeff Lynne (who also wore the producer’s hat), the band’s debut, cheekily titled Volume 1, harnessed their individual talents while keeping egos at bay.

It was Harrison who brought his friends together, and Lynne’s production genius which kept the project sailing, out of which came a string of sumptuous folk and pop rockers, starting with the sweet and catchy Handle With Care. Fifteen million views on YouTube is a sure-fire sign that this modern classic has stood the test of time. Harrison’s imprint is all over this gem, replete with catchy chord changes and pleasing vocal melodies … and those deceptively-brilliant slide guitar fills.

The long out-of-print Traveling Wilburys CD to be reissued by Rhino.

The long out-of-print Traveling Wilburys CD to be reissued by Rhino.

Unlike most albums vaunting musical heavyweights, where the artistes invariably railroad themselves into flexing musical muscle, moulding a jarring listening experience, Volume 1 melds together seamlessly, like a well-baked cake of finely selected ingredients. And while too many cooks might spoil the broth, Volume 1 shatters that old adage with aplomb, instead finding five friends who strove to serve the songs above all else.

Each singer/songwriter takes stabs at leading the tunes. Highlights from the Dylan cannon include the sobering Congratulations and the nail-biting story-telling of Tweeter And The Monkey Man (a jibe at Bruce Springsteen), while Petty has a crack with his reggae-inspired Last Night, and the corker from Lynne is surely rock n’ roll throwback Rattled.

Orbison didn’t live long enough (he died mere weeks after the album’s release) to witness the critical acclaim the album received, but he can rest in piece knowing he definitely played his part in making Volume 1 a quiet, unassuming folk rock masterpiece with the lilting Not Alone Any More.

An album like Volume 1 comes once in a lifetime, and given the circumstance in which it was recorded – four superstar friends coming together to record a song for Harrison – this is likely never to happen again. For a little bit of love and a sunshiny vibe, Volume 1 is hard to beat.

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