The story of Donnie and Joe Emerson is rather more interesting than the music on their 1979 album Dreamin' Wild, accounting at least in part for the interest in the rare LP that led to its 2012 CD reissue. Growing up in the remote rural town of Fruitland in Washington State (70 miles northwest of Spokane), their musical talents were encouraged by their father to an extreme degree, as he even had a $100,000 studio built for them on their property. Family funding was also behind this limited-edition album on their own Enterprise & Co. label, recorded when Donnie -- the main force behind the LP as singer, multi-instrumentalist, and writer or co-writer of all the songs -- was still in high school. Joe drums on the majority of the tracks and co-wrote a few of the songs, but it's Donnie who's the main show, with help from background singers on a couple tracks.
Like some other self-released albums recorded in isolated circumstances, Dreamin' Wild doesn't reflect the most up-to-date trends of its time. Joe's time-keeping, unfortunately, is shaky to the point of amateurism, and the songwriting is sometimes very much a work in progress. It's also a record that pulls in several directions at once, at different times getting into light, blue-eyed funk ("Baby" and "Give Me the Chance," the latter decorated by haphazard synthesizer effects); a hybrid of power pop and Creedence Clearwater Revival ("Good Time"); Doobie Brothers-lite (the instrumental "Feels Like the Sun"); wistful singer/songwriter attempts indicating that Paul McCartney and Elton John might have been penetrating their neck of the hinterlands; and progressive pop/rock on the seven-minute closer "My Heart," that slightly recalls a lo-fi mid- to late-'70s Steve Miller. The album's best asset is Donnie's unaffected, high, earnestly sweet singing, which at this young age, was certainly of a respectably professional standard. Otherwise, the record is an odd mix of kernels of promise compromised by the somewhat half-baked songwriting and slipshod production, placing it on an unsteady perch between competent mid-'70s pop/rock and outsider music. That means it's hardly a great record -- the rabid enthusiasm of some collectors to the contrary -- but that strange blend is also responsible for it sounding like little else from the time, and thus more interesting than uncounted, more professional (yet average) records drawing from similar styles. Dave Segal's lengthy liner notes do the Emerson family's saga proud, with plenty of memories from Donnie, Joe, and their father, as well as vintage photos with a feel as homemade as their music. ~ Richie Unterberger
Billboard (p.48) - "Donnie presents an impressive absorption of the Commodores, Steve Miller, Elton John and Bread that extends beyond his writing and impressive guitar chops to include production and mixing."
Q (Magazine) (p.113) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "It has wobbly period charm..."
Mojo (Publisher) (p.108) - "DREAMIN' WILD is eight tracks of finespun '70s FM pop-soul, refracted through the prism of teenage melancholy and the cultural isolation of the American Northwest