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Donnie & Joe Emerson - Dreamin’ Wild

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Artist: Donnie & Joe Emerson

Album: Dreamin’ Wild

Label: Light in the Attic

Review date: Nov. 28, 2012

For some reason, the 1970s seemed like a good time for isolated, weird, outside recording artists. It was an odd cultural moment all around — as the whole New Deal/revolutionary-minded/hippie coalition bit the dust and slowly got replaced by neoliberal, consumer zombie culture, things got odd, and since then, as the economic climate’s gotten even more fucked, it’s gotten odder. But still, at least through the lens of nostalgia, the ’70s seemed like a particularly fertile time for this stuff. There was Bill Holt’s Dreamies album for one. It’s an interesting story — Holt was basically a salesman/middle manager type at 3M, who, on the side, tried a music career and also made an amazing Beatles-esque collage-pop album. Then, of course, there’s The Shaggs, a group of atonal teen sisters pressganged into a band by their svengali-like father and whose only (weird and endearing) album Philosophy of the World was recorded only slightly after they started taking music lessons.

And that brings us to teen brothers Donnie and Joe Emerson, whose album Dreamin’ Wild was recorded in 1979, also at the behest of their (in this instance, pragmatic and not-domineering) father. Despite — or, as it goes, perhaps because of — its amalgamated sound, the album was then consigned to the nether-regions of history, only to surface again this year as Light in the Attic continued its mission of digging through the historical record bins. Dreamin’ Wild is an odd mix of the music of the era: fairly soft, jangly, AM Gold at its core but also branching out in bits and specks into the rest of the decade in a way that’s — please forgive the high-mindedness (I know no other way to say this) — Hegelian. What I mean by this is that Hegel’s idea of Spirit — to paraphrase and bastardize— had to do with these kind of mass cultural ideas playing out in actual humans, and as actual humans live their lives, the contradictions inherent in these ideas would play themselves out as well. (To make it clearer, all ideas, when played to their logical conclusions, eventually contradict themselves — it’s why cultures eventually fall apart.)

As noted above, liberalism contradicted itself as the left-leaning order split itself asunder in the ’60s and ’70s, thanks to civil rights and such ripping the New Deal Coalition in half. The Emersons, though, seemed like a wonderfully naïve depository for a number of contradictory ideas, and because of that naiveté, allowed all those contradictions to sit within them. Growing up in rural Washington, they had no artistic agenda other than to make the music that naturally fell out of them. That’s not to say it’s not sharp or unpolished, but rather that outside of any artistic scene — and despite their father’s desire that they make something marketable — they were left to their own instincts. Thus, all these different musical styles find expression in the Emerson brothers without it sounding forced or being merely an experiment. While the Emersons certainly aren’t revolutionary, and Dreamin’ Wild isn’t some missing link in the historical record, it is an enjoyable album and remarkable for its ability to naturally pull off such an amalgam of styles, while at the same time retaining a real voice.

By Andrew Beckerman

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