“Leaves will fall from winter’s chill…”

11.17.11

Are there albums and artists that you have to listen to at a certain time of year? For me, Dean Martin is the voice of autumn/early winter. I can’t explain it other than to point to the fact that I bought my first Dean Martin CD in the Fall of 1998 and then listened to it non-stop all winter long. Now it’s just the thing to do in my world.

Best of Dean Martin album cover
Fast-forward to November 3, 2004. I was on the road with Special K, Dave (of “Dave and Kari” fame), and other WSUMers en route to the College Broadcasters, Inc. annual convention in Nashville, TN. It was my turn to pick out the music we’d listen to in the van. I offered to turn down the opportunity because I knew my CD collection was… eclectic. But Dave insisted it was my turn to pick out the music.

I handed him my copy of That’s Amore: The Best of Dean Martin — a.k.a. my “must have” album for that time of year. Dave shrugged and said, “Alright…” as he put it in the CD player. I think maybe three and a half tracks played before he dove for the “eject” button and it was the next person’s turn to select the playlist.

Sorry, Dave and friends. I tried to spare you…

But that’s not to say this album isn’t worth a listen. I’m just saying it may be best enjoyed on your own… or in any other context besides 6 hours into on a 14-hour road trip with others who much prefer the congested, speech impediment-laden stylings of The Decemberists.

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What’s a “Best of Dean Martin” compilation without “That’s Amore” — arguably his biggest hit? If you’re tired of that song, do what I do and flip ahead to the next track or turn on the ‘random’ playback feature of your MP3 or CD player. Other familiar Dino songs you can expect to hear include, “Volare,” “Sway,” “Return To Me,” and “Memories Are Made Of This” (a.k.a. the one that’s overplayed on AM radio).

There are hidden gems, too, which make this album my favorite Dean Martin collection out of the three that I own.

Call me outlandish, but I think Dean Martin’s version of “Canadian Sunset” surpasses Andy Williams’ by leaps and bounds. It’s much more delicate, romantic, and embodies the sentiment that I imagine the lyricist (Norman Gimbel) intended to evoke when he wrote it (this is pure speculation; I haven’t done any research into Mr. Gimbel’s intentions). And the solo oboe lightly dancing around in the background is just adorable.

Another favorite is “If Love Is Good To Me.” Folks who wish to put on their dancing shoes can find this and other danceable numbers on Dean’s aptly-named album, Cha Cha de Amor.

The CD wraps up with the best version of “My One and Only Love” that I have ever heard. I mean, seriously. It beats out Sinatra, Johnny Hartman, and countless others who otherwise make you melt like butter. The arrangement features a flute theme that supports Dino’s melody line, an orchestral bridge that will sweep you away, and is ultimately held together by a small cadre of soft bongo beats in the backdrop.

Yes, it all sounds strange in writing, but you absolutely must take a listen to hear just how wonderfully this number comes together. Unlike with other songs, Dino doesn’t lay the schmaltz on too thick– his smooth vocal treatment and the arrangement’s instrumentation come together in perfect balance to create what I think is one of the most romantic songs of all time!

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For some, Dean Martin is a “love him or hate him” kind of artist. I don’t know about that, but I can see how his style might be aggrevating to some. The relentless vibrato, the faux-Italianization of songs that should be left well enough alone, the mispronunciation of Italian words that were supposed to sound authentic in the first place — I’ll admit that his best work is comprised of songs that don’t possess these traits. But when considering the overall purview of his recording history, the good outweighs the not-so-impressive, in my opinion.

If you want to know ahead of time which tracks on this album you could probably skip or selectively choose not to buy (if you’re going the MP3 downloading route), either because they possess the lackluster qualities mentioned above or because they’d otherwise bore you… then I’ll tell ya:

7. Come Back to Sorrento
9. I’m Yours
10. Hey Brother, Pour the Wine
11. Just Say I Love Her (Dicitencello Vuie)
13. Standing On the Corner

That’s only five out of twenty tracks. I really think you’ll find the rest tolerable, if not downright enjoyable. Give it a spin and enjoy the warmth that Dino’s voice brings amid the autumn’s winter chill!

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Final thoughts: This collection only scratches the surface of all that Dean Martin recorded. Just when I think I’ve heard it all, Paul Snyder winds up unearthing something new to me on his blog!

Use That’s Amore: The Best of Dean Martin as a primer and keep exploring more of Dino’s work when you’re ready to give your music collection another boost.

Christmas with The Rat Pack album cover

“Christmas With the Rat Pack”

I admit it: I’m a Rat Pack freak. ¬†After all, the Rat Pack is one of the reasons I got into this type of music in the first place, starting with Frank, then with Dean. It all unraveled from there.

But the Rat Pack apparently isn’t for everybody. My grandma (Great Great Grandma Cyd), for example, was disappointed to find the 15-year-old me watching an old tape of their classic Vegas show in her living room. “All they were into was women and booze!” she said as she waved her hand and walked to the other room.

Okay, I’ll give her that. But in this album, the Rat Pack is nothing but wholesome. Dino takes his creative liberties with some of the songs (referring to our favorite red-nosed reindeer as “Rudy” and giving Santa Claus a not-quite-German accent), and that gets annoying. But then, there are more redeeming qualities. If you’re not sold on the whole album, here are some recommended tracks:

2. “Mistletoe and Holly” by Frank Sinatra.
Oh by gosh, by golly! This is by far the warmest, cuddliest song on the album. Sinatra’s velvet voice is backed up by a small chorus, pizzicato strings, and the lyrics will take you back to family holidays past (minus the arguments and food fights).

3. “Christmas Time All Over the World” by Sammy Davis, Jr.
Here’s an upbeat number for the globally-minded. With the help of Sammy and a small group of children, learn to say “Merry Christmas” in, at last count, nine different languages!

6. “I Believe” by Frank Sinatra.
You’d expect to see this song included on the Nice ‘n’ Easy album, or something similar. It’s classic Sinatra and could be enjoyed any time of year. By the end, you’ll be singing along. For real.

8. “The Christmas Song” by Sammy Davis, Jr.
Sammy Davis, Jr. helps us settle in with this down-tempo tune. His rendition knocks “Mr. Bojangles” out of the ballpark of contemplative tenderness. Don’t discount it simply because it’s not sung by Nat King Cole.

14. “Peace On Earth/Silent Night” by Dean Martin.
In this solemn hymn-like rendition of “Silent Night”, we get a touch of Dean Martin’s softer side. I’ve heard people discount Dean Martin as “not a singer.” My measure of a singer’s worth is taken when that person attempts to sing a slow songs and ballads… because ballads are hard to do well. Dino can do it, and he does it here.

19. “A Marshmallow World [Live]” by Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.
Recorded from a live broadcast of “The Dean Martin Show,” Frank and Dino give us a toe-tappin’, finger-snappin’ version of “A Marshmallow World.” They nail the melody, and the occasional harmonies are solid. We don’t know what the live audience is laughing at. We can only imagine…

A Winter Romance

A Winter Romance – Dean Martin

It seems Dean Martin is another artist people either love or hate. As one in the “Pro-Dino” camp, even I must admit that sometimes his Christmas albums can be a bit too much, with over-the-top shmoozery and shtick. Nevertheless, there’s something to be said for letting Dean Martin blend in the background at your annual holiday cocktail party. This way, the overly casual treatment of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (his name ain’t Rudy!) and his awful attempt at the Germanification of Santa Claus will likely go unnoticed.

You can find many of my favorite Dean Martin Christmas songs on the album Christmas With the Rat Pack, though it appears I didn’t review any of them earlier! So to help diversify your music collection, here are some tracks I recommend off of A Winter Romance

1. A Winter Romance
This title track is unassumingly sweet. Dean croons without trying to impress us, and he’s apparently sober. That’s always a plus.

2. Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
Here’s a lighthearted number that’ll get stuck in your head every time you see a flurry float past your window. It’s one of my favorite Dean Martin wintertime tunes.

6. Canadian Sunset
I don’t think I’d be ruffling too many feathers if I came out and said that Dean Martin’s version of “Canadian Sunset” is far superior to Andy Williams’ version. (Or would I?) It just seems like Williams bellows his way through the song in a bland and soulless way. Dino’s version has more warmth and more heart.

8. Out In the Cold Again
I really wish fewer of his songs would start with a choir singing cheesy chorus lyrics like this one does. [“Out in the cooooooooooooooooooold.”] How unoriginal. Still, it all improves from there. Give it a chance.

12. It Won’t Cool Off
Here’s one song I’ve never heard before. It appears the only reason the producers included this song on the album is because it had the word “cool” in the title. It otherwise has nothing to do with winter. This song can be enjoyed at any time of the year!