Did the Traveling Wilburys, during their recording sessions in the early 90s, contend with news of mass shootings and murderous cops, police assassinations and systemic racism? Was the 1992 Bush Sr.-Bill Clinton-Perot election as contentious and divisive as the one we currently face? Were societal ills and social injustices on the top of Dylan and Petty, Harrison and Lynn’s minds? Overwhelmingly, the tracks here–simple, relationship-themed, and inward-looking–would suggest not. At a time when the nation, immersed as it is in the violence through endless news cycles and social media feeds, is engaged again in debates of racism and gun ownership, the apoliticism of “Traveling Wilburys Vol. III” makes it a tough sell.
And yet, in these very pages I’ve faulted Dylan for being at times too polemic, for using his bully pulpit to promote a political agenda. And here I am wishing Vol. III (Vol. II never happened) contained that awareness of the larger struggles facing society. Just as the artist is helpless to create beyond the trappings of their place and time, their circumstances and beliefs, the critic, too, fails to approach their material without influence from the broader world. I can’t help import myself and my desires into my listening.
Do I “get” Vol. III? It’s a decent effort from a group laden with high expectations. Do I need the previous albums to get it? At this point I’m praising the generosity of the other members who took Dylan in at the nadir of his career. Do I like it? God, I’m ready for something better.