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Album Review: Donnie and Joe Emerson “Dreamin’ Wild”
If you scour indie music blogs for obscurities, you may have already come across this gem. The cover art leaves a lasting impression (one you can never unsee), and while it continues to spread from California to the New York islands of social media, what follows is why you shouldn’t judge an album by its cover.
Donnie and Joe were just your average 1970s teenagers growing up in a podunk town in Washington state. They loved music, started a band, and dreamed of the big break. Unlike most parents, who squawk about the racket and banish band practices to the basement, Donnie and Joe’s parentals embraced the noise, signed a contract with them, built an on-site recording studio/venue, and sold off significant acreage to support the duo’s dream. A dream that, for reasons chalked up to circumstance and an internet-less world, became deferred.
Their music received little to no attention from anyone outside of the Emerson social circle, and their album copies were scattered like ashes to rest for all of musical eternity – or so it seemed. They resigned themselves to regular jobs and their passion became more of a hobby. One day, record collector Jack Fleischer was rummaging around in a Montana antique shop and came across an unopened copy. Fleischer happened to be a reviewer of obscure, vintage records, and blogged about it in 2008.
It proves to be difficult to find much about Fleischer online, except the general attribution for this diamond in the rough album. We can imagine that he was thumbing through a bin of old records, paused at their Elvis getup and come hither faces, pulled it out, and after giving it the once over, shelled out a fiver and went home to get his vinyl on. The album struck the literal and proverbial chord with Fleischer, because whatever he churned out on his blog caught like wildfire within the record collecting community. The words he chose resonated to such a degree that a cult following formed and snowballed, and four years later not only are Donnie and Joe Emerson showing up all over indie music blogs, but Light in the Attic Records reissued Dreamin’ Wild. Impressive. What exactly did you write, Jack Fleischer?
Listening to the album is an experience. The brothers are amateur in that their sound is all over the place. It’s also apparent that they take themselves quite seriously. The first few tracks are strong, but it eventually becomes a hazy seventies “what the hell am I listening to?” snap back to reality. It is yacht rock come to life before it even existed.
But it doesn’t matter, because no one is going into to this album blind. It’s impossible to separate the rags-to-record-deal story and the fated find of Fleischer from the soft rock of two high school kids trying to get the hell out of Dodge. That’s why it ultimately works. Knowing that it’s kids who didn’t really make it, but then eventually sort of did, creates an incredible empathy when listening.
Now, years later, Donnie and Joe Emerson are closer to the green light at the end of the dock than they ever thought they would be. And that is what each note sounds like.
For more on the duo, check out their interview here.
All photos courtesy of the Emerson Family and Light in the Attic Records