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Traveling Wilbury's return with fundamental '60s rock

TRAVELING WILBURYS VOL. 3

Wilbury/Warner Bros. Records.

By NEELAN CHOKSI

TWO YEARS AFTER the release of their well-received debut, the Wilbury brothers are back. Traveling Wilburys Volume 3 finds the group setting aside the breezy, country-rock sound of Volume 1 in favor of a more fundamental early 1960s rock and roll. Gone (and sorely missed) is the haunting tenor of the late Roy Orbison (Lefty Wilbury), to whom the album is dedicated. Still, the remaining Wilburys carry on, and with much more than marginal results.

The main beneficiary of Volume 3 is Bob Dylan (Boo Wilbury). While in the group, Dylan is free to abandon his image as the King of Political Posturing and concentrate on being a rock star, apparently to his complete satisfaction. It's interesting to hear the same man who wrote "Blowin' in the Wind" take the lead vocal on "7 Deadly Sins," a song which sounds like it came straight from the American Graffiti soundtrack. After what amounted to little more than a guest spot on Volume 1, hearing Dylan spotlighted on Volume 3 is a pleasure.

The other great triumph belongs to Tom Petty (Muddy Wilbury). He checks in with "Cool Dry Place" -- as close as any Wilbury comes to a solo performance -- which sounds an awful lot like Petty's Dylan impersonation. He also leads on "You Take My Breath Away," a tune so Orbisonesque that one cannot help but wish that Lefty were alive to sing it. Overall, Petty's vocal lines complement Dylan's quite nicely, lending much cohesion to the record.

George Harrison (Spike Wilbury), the obvious leader of the band, eschews the role of central vocalist (which he played so well on Volume 1) this time around, in order to concentrate on his playing. His slide guitar on "Poor House" -- which sounds like Hound Dog Taylor aping Jimmy Buffett -- is some of the best he (or anyone else for that matter) has ever done. His Beatles influence is most prominent on "Where Were You Last Night?" sounding like an out-take from Please Please Me days of 1963.

The primary duty of Jeff Lynne (Clayton Wilbury) seems to have been keeping the group from going heavy metal. He opens the album by singing the first verse of "She's My Baby" and closes it with the last line in "Wilbury Twist," sure to be the next dance craze. Lynne also serves as co-producer of the album (with Harrison), making him at least partially responsible for the fortunate lack of overkill which separates the Traveling Wilburys from groups like Depeche Mode.

Rumor has it that this new fab four is soon to hit the road on a tour. That would be most fortunate for those of us who think rock and roll is a little more than Guns & Roses and Erasure. In any case, if you want clear, clever, classy pop tunes, Traveling Wilburys Volume 3 is for you.