Donnie & Joe Emerson, Still Dreamin’ Wild: The Lost Recordings 1979-81

Barry Walters

By Barry Walters

on 06.16.14 in Reviews

Until two years ago, virtually nobody knew teenage brother act Donnie & Joe Emerson and their parent-financed LP Dreamin’ Wild except for relatives, friends, and a few lucky and/or obsessive record collectors. Recorded on the family farm in rural Fruitland, Washington, in the brothers’ self-built log cabin studio, this 1979 project nearly bankrupted their dad. But thanks to a faithful and oddly soulful 2012 cover version of “Baby” by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, a typically loving reissue by Light in the Attic, and rapturous indie press for both, Dreamin’ Wild miraculously found an audience, one as likely charmed by the teen brothers’ absurdly high-collared Elvis jumpsuits on the cover as they were by the bubblegum R&B and power-pop within.

The Top 40 of farm boys’ dreams

And that would ordinarily be the end of the story. But between 1979-81, the Emersons committed nearly 70 songs to tape, and it turns out that the cream of the crop presented here is just as sweet and sincere as “Baby.” Rather than the usual hodgepodge of unpolished demos and substandard tracks that often follow fluke reissues, Still Dreamin’ Wild is actually a more consistent and polished work than the celebrated private press album that made it possible.

Donnie was only 17 when that record was released, and what’s made clear in these dozen cuts mostly created in its immediate wake was that his talent rapidly matured while his consciousness remained endearingly childlike. Donnie hadn’t so much as been on a bus when he wrote “One True Love,” one of several ballads here that suggest homemade Hall & Oates, and so there’s the highly excitement of an innocent crushing on teenage queens and experiencing big-city life for the first time.

The giddy uptempo numbers evoke the era’s bubbliest pop-rock — the Knack, Tommy Tutone, Rick Springfield — and Donnie’s skill at writing, arranging, producing, recording and playing nearly everything here suggests that had the Emersons encountered the right breaks they could’ve scored similar hits. The fact that they didn’t, though, makes this resolutely starry-eyed music all the more poignant. It’s the Top 40 of farm boys’ dreams.