TRAVELING WILBURYS The Traveling Wilburys Collection (Rhino)

Bundling together the superstar collective’s two albums with a DVD of documentary and promo video hoopla, at its best “The Traveling Wilburys Collection” delivers dumbed down but delightful pop music, of a piece with the solo work Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty were crafting individually (albeit usually with a fellow Wilbury or two lurking in the background) at the time.

The debut album is the keeper. The likes of “Handle With Care” hardly seem cynically tailored for FM radio, but the cap certainly fits. “Dirty World” is perhaps the project’s peak – is it possible to tire of its cheeky melody and Dylan’s parade of single-entendres? Jeff channels the spirit of early rock ‘n’ roll for “Rattled”, and “Not Alone Any More” surely rates as Roy’s swansong, a majestic ballad sensitively matched to his tremulous, booming vocals. Bob’s shaggy dog story “Tweeter And The Monkey Man” seems like the album’s most substantial statement, but its impact is diminished by noting how the lyric is essentially a load of Bruce Springsteen song titles strung together (I counted six, rising to seven if The Boss’ cover of Tom Waits’ “Jersey Girl” qualifies). Original album closer “End Of The Line” is another highpoint, a cheery pop tune on which Lynne gets to sing “It’s alright” exactly as he did at the close of “Rockaria!”. There’s a couple of pleasant, previously unissued bonus tracks, which seem to strip the sound back, closer to what the original album sessions might’ve sounded like (barring a few 2007 overdubs by Jeff Lynne and Dhani Harrison) – thick wads of acoustic guitars, vocals and percussion – and there lies the rub. Normally a staunch defender of Jeff Lynne’s oft-derided production style, I find it difficult to warm to the kitchen sink gloop he’s poured all over the Wilburys’ work – the relentless thud of Jim Keltner’s drums, Jim Horn’s saxes burping out all over, massed ranks of backing vocals surging up through every space. It’s almost like an early battle in the Loudness Wars as Lynne pushes his trademark sound to the point of parody.

Following Orbison’s untimely demise, there’s a strong argument to suggest the band should’ve stopped there. If “Volume 1” is the sound of friends at play, “Volume 3” (a title attributed variously to the fact that the second volume had already been claimed by a bootleg or to “George being George”) is hard work. It’s harder to excuse the clichés, and easier to become annoyed by clunking incongruities such as Gary Moore’s (Gary Moore?!) shredding on “She’s My Baby”. The overall sound seems a bit rootsier, dipping back further into rock’s formative years, with the production excess dialled back just a little, but the material is almost uniformly weaker – only Tom’s sardonic storage crisis “Cool Dry Place” is really memorable – and Bob’s voice, never pretty, is truly shot, reduced to a flatulent, croaking groan. A coupla relatively rare covers close the disc: “Nobody’s Child” is a struggle, “Runaway” rather more tolerable.

On the DVD, the rockumentary “The True History Of The Traveling Wilburys” covers the genesis of the band and the recording of the first album, but doesn’t waste so much as a frame on the follow-up. There’s candid camcorder footage of the sessions in Dave Stewart’s kitchen and a smattering of interesting facts that I’m not going to spoil your potential future enjoyment by repeating here. Everybody contributes their thoughts, with the glaring exception of Mr Zimmerman, but it’s the snippets featuring the gentlemanly Big O that leave the deepest impression. The bundle of promo videos add a little designer dust to the band’s prefabricated myth, but still pack the odd surprising emotional punch, for example the way the camera lingers on an empty rocking chair and a framed photograph during the late Mr Orbison’s verse on “End Of The Line”.

Gripes aside, Rhino have done a splendid job in packaging up the entirety of the Wilburys legacy in one place (albeit in four and counting different configurations).

The Beatles

Bob Dylan

Electric Light Orchestra

George Harrison And Friends

The Move

Tom Petty