Saturday, August 6, 2016

Under the Red Sky/Traveling Wilbury's Vol. III: Dylan in 1990

Released September 10, 1990
The spring of 1990 proved a busy one for Bob Dylan, recording two albums simultaneously: Under the Red Sky and Traveling Wilbury's Vol. III.

Released a year after the well received Oh Mercy, Under the Red Sky failed to impress most fans and critics.  Recorded in Los Angeles and produced by the Was brothers, the album featured guest appearances from some of the biggest names in the music industry including Elton John, Bruce Hornsby, George Harrison, Slash, and many others. 

I like to think of Under the Red Sky as a coda to Oh Mercy in terms of tone. The former looks at life with an honest, serious, and ultimately tragic outlook. While the latter goes for a more child like wisdom, making the two albums suitable companion pieces.  

"Wiggle Wiggle" may be the most despised song ever to open a Dylan album, a children's ditty with nonsensical lyrics.  Easy now, the Beatles could get away with "Piggies" and "Wild Honey Pie" on The White Album.

The title track features excellent guitar from Harrison and some poignant lyrics, a dark retelling of Hansel and Gretel.  "Unbelievable" was made into an amusing music video starring 80s icon Molly Ringwald. "Born in Time" provides some seasoned reflection on life and loss. "T.V. Talkin Song" reads like a lost passage from Tarantula.

"10,000 Men" offers up some leisurely blues with Dylan sounding like he's making it up on the spot. It's a fun jam.  "2 X 2" continues the nursery rhyme theme. "God Knows" recalls on the Christian Rock on the Shot of Love LP. Dylan refined "God Knows" into an epic rock song for his live shows in the 90s.  "Handy Dandy" introduces another eccentric character with "Like A Rolling Stone" evident in the melody.  The closing track, "Cat's in the Well," became a mainstay of Dylan's live repertoire throughout the 2000s.

A collection of odds and ends lacking in memorable moments or high points, Under the Red Sky works strictly as a curio.

Released October 29, 1990

After the unexpected passing of Roy Orbison, The Traveling Wilbury's continued on as a quartet for one more album. Orbison's absence left a melancholy shadow over the proceedings that made the original so magical. Nevertheless the songs on Vol. III hold up and are defiantly retro in style and tone. 

Dylan took a leadership role and his material dominates the album. 

"She's My Baby" is an uptempo rocker and "Inside Out" features the Wilbury's working on all cylinders.  

"7 Deadly Sins" and "Where Were You Last Night" bring some punch that the tracks on Under The Red Sky lacked.  "New Blue Moon" belongs on every jukebox.

"Wilbury Twist" ends things on a playful note.

Unfortunately the Wilbury's never got back together and their music went out of circulation throughout the 90s and early 2000's.  Both are now widely available. Great albums to get out on a rainy day!


  1. You should listen more closely because Under The Red Sky is a far more serious and darker album than Oh Mercy. And "Wiggle Wiggle" is one killer tune!

    1. charlespoet - I'm aware there is a cult following to UTRS, but I prefer Oh Mercy, especially the production style of Lanois. This one just doesn't connect with me as much, but I like what Dylan did with these songs in his live performances.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. I thought Born in Time was pretty good.

  4. A most underrated album. It is one of my favourite Dylan albums precisely because it is so loose,off the wall and so deliberately the opposite of both the magnificent Oh,Mercy and Jeff Lyne WilburysHarrisonOrbisonELOetc soundalikes. In this context, Wiggle Wiggle is a great opener which declares both the new audacious sound and also the themes of the darkness of nursery rhymes and ecology ( far from a children's ditty..."wiggle till your higher,wiggle till you vomit fire" ) Does Garcia play on the album?

    1. cathada - Fair enough! I've always been neutral towards UTRS. Maybe I am missing a hidden brilliance within these songs, just never connected with me like Oh Mercy. I double checked and I don't believe Garcia took part in this (my error).

    2. Apparently you're not a Dylan fan. You're a journalist.

    3. Right! Kicked to the curb like Phil Ochs .. .

  5. A fair analysis of 'Under the Red Sky' I think. Some good moments, but generally unfocused and under-prepared. 'Wiggle Wiggle', 'Cats in the Well', 'God Knows', 'Born in Time' and the title track were all tackled more successfully in concert.
    No mention of 'If You Belonged to Me' in your review of 'Volume 3'? A marvellous vocal by Bob.

  6. Thanks - You're right, "If you belonged to me" is another good tune, nice production and harmonica on that one. In fact, Bob sounds way more engaged on all the Wilbury songs. Unfocused is the perfect description for UTRS.