Thursday, April 17, 2014



The Lost Recordings 1979-81



     Privately pressed albums were, at one time, the laughing stock of music community.  They were treated so horribly that they wouldn’t even make the $1 bins at used record stores.  The only time you’d ever see them is if you were flipping through the “5 for $1” boxes under the bins.  Private pressings were perceived as albums and artists so bad that not even indie labels would release them.  But hardcore collectors – people who actually LISTENED to these albums in hopes of finding hidden gems – knew differently.  Just because an album was privately pressed didn’t mean that nobody wanted to release it – it just meant that the artists involved didn’t know of the right channels to go through in order to get their albums released so they did it themselves.  In the early to mid ‘70s, indie labels were not as common as they became at the tail end of that decade.  So, if someone believed in the music that they created, they wanted to be able to get that music out to people who attended their shows, to radio stations that might spin a track or to and to record stores that might help spread their music to a larger audience.  Unfortunately, those albums just became dust collectors in beat up boxes in record stores around the world.
     But then the internet came along and changed all of that. The music geeks began searching for something unique and privately pressed albums filled the bill.  Some were awful, some were good and some were hidden treasures filled with lo-fi charm.  One of those albums was 1979’s Dreamin’ Wild by Donnie and Joe Emerson

Judging by the cover – two happy young rockers in white jumpsuits – one was expecting either a teeny bop fiesta ala The Osmonds or maybe four-fisted tribute to Elvis.  Instead, listeners heard some of the most sincere Pop/Rock songs never played on the radio.  These guys were totally into what they were doing and they certainly had the chops AND the songwriting skills.  The only thing lacking was a proper producer who could reign in some of the better ideas and make the songs shorter and more concise.  The album’s standout was the haunting “Baby,” which sounds too heartbreaking for words.  And in contrast to the rest of the album, “Baby” is actually a little too short and ends unexpectedly when you think you have at least another few choruses to go.  The song is a stunner.  Thanks to blogs, that song and the album went viral.  Music fans and musicians fell in love with “Baby” and Donnie and Joe Emerson.  Collectors began trading the digital files ripped from the vinyl while the original LP’s price skyrocketed.  The Emerson brothers’ music was now making its way across the world but the boys didn’t have the ability to capitalize on their belated fame.  That is when the great Light In The Attic Records label got involved and officially reissued the album on CD and LP with input from Donnie and Joe Emerson. The boys in the band were finally getting the recognition they deserved.

      So, with Dreamn' Wild officially back on the market and renewed interest in their music, what was next for Donnie and Joe, who never released a sophomore album?  For most people, their story started and ended with that Dreamin' Wild, but what about outtakes and unreleased songs?  Those of us who fell for the charm of their debut wondered if there was more.  Surely, there MUST be more!  Well, that burning question has just been answered with the arrival of the outstanding Still Dreaming Wild: The Lost Recordings 1979-81. While the album is a collection of unreleased tracks and not an album proper, that shouldn't stop anyone from dropping what they are doing and ordering this slice of Pop goodnesss right here and now.

Two things to ponder while you listen...

1. Their debut album was not a 'hit', nor was the song "Baby", so when the boys began writing and recording, they continued move forward and did not adhere to a proven formula, making this release a breathe of fresh air. They weren't trying to cash in on a certain sound... they were just interested in making more music. So, thankfully, there is no "Baby Part Two" on the album.  If that is what you are looking for, jut play the debut album again.

2. These recordings were made just as New Wave and Synth/Electronic music came into vogue, so many tracks utilize keyboards and drum machines.  However, those elements are used to enhance the recordings, not to carry them.  Sometimes, when you want to get a musical idea down on tape, you use what you have and Donnie Emerson used whatever he could.

3. Still Dreamin' Wild is a newly compiled collection of unreleased tracks and is not a reissue of a lost private pressing.  Some 'private press snobs' may turn their noses up at this release, but the rest of us who just want to hear more music form Donnie & Joe are in for a treat.

     Still Dreamin’ Wild features a set of well-written, arranged and performed tracks that showcase a more confident and mature duo.  Perhaps influenced by the short, sharp Pop of New Wave, the tracks on this album are focused, unpretentious and honest.  There may not be a "Baby" here, but those haunting chord changes are present in many of the songs. The songs are filled with a heart-breaking melancholy that you can hear in Donnie's voice.  But his heartbreak doesn't always equal pain - there is a lot joy in the music of Donnie & Joe, but sometimes you have to cry a few tears before you can find it.  "Don't Disguise The Way You Feel" (perhaps the closes thing you'll get to "Baby" here) does offer hope even though sadness seems to have dictated it's somber atmosphere. On the other hand, "Don't Fight" and "Ride The Tide" are straight ahead Pop tunes. "Oh Baby Yeah" sounds like it could have been a demo recorded for Rick Springfield's Working Class Dog sessions. "Stand By Love" is a New Wave/Glam rocker. "Somethin's Comin' Down" is another beauty with a heartbreaking melody. "Everybody Knows It" is bubbly Synthpop with a Power Pop melody not unlike Shoes during their Silhouette period. "Girl With The Rainbow Seeds" is a lo-fi pop masterpiece. "Since You Been With Me" is an oddity -a moody lo-fi synthpop tune with the same four lines repeated over and over. At first, it seems like an unfinished song but by the time the track fades, it's just another track to add to your list of highlights.  Brilliant.

     When I first finished listening to the album, I immediately went right back to listen to it again.  The great thing is that the innocence and charm is still there, but the talent had grown in leaps and bounds. There were no egos, just a desire to create great music.  Its taken 35 years for the rest of us to hear these songs, but I sure hope there are more where these came from. These are honest, well-written Pop songs from the heart.  There’s almost nothing better in life than that.

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