Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Intimate Dean Martin: Dream with Dean (1964)

Dean Martin is so well known for his comedic skills and his vocal and stage gimmicks that we sometimes tend to underestimate him as a vocalist. But fortunately, his extensive recorded legacy includes little gems like Dream with Dean that remind us what a great singer he really was. By 1964, when these sessions took place, Martin was under contract to Frank Sinatra's Reprise label, and he was just a few months away from enacting a definitive comeback as a recording and television star. And, although he did not know it as he entered the studio, this album would play no small part in his return to the top.

After several hit releases throughout the 1950s that saw him accompanied by everything from swinging orchestras to Latin-flavored combos, Martin decided to cut a concept album of slow ballads, sung as slow as they could be sung, with an intimate backing of just four pieces: jazz great Barney Kessel on guitar; Ken Lane, Dean's long-time accompanist, on piano and celeste; Red Mitchell on bass; and Irv Cottler, who appeared on countless Sinatra sessions, on drums. The resulting sound is, of course, sparse and mellow, but it actually works very well behind Martin's voice, which sounds deep and soothing, a little bit as though he were singing directly into the listener's ear, trying his best to contain the emotions expressed in the lyrics.

Together with the dreamy sound of the four-piece outfit, the superb song selection is another one of the reasons why this album is such an artistic success. The program kicks off with a lovely, understated reading of "I'm Confessin' (That I Love You)" that aptly sets the scene for the rest of the romantic confessions that are to follow. Martin tackles standards like "Fools Rush In," "Blue Moon," and "I Don't Know Why (I Just Do)" very convincingly, his voice lulled by the soft strains provided by Kessel's self-contained guitar embellishments and Lane's beautiful piano work. He also chooses lesser-known tunes like "I'll Buy That Dream" and "If You Were the Only Girl" and proves that they can flourish in this musical setting. In "Gimme a Little Kiss Will Ya Huh," he does not exactly whisper like Whispering Jack Smith did in his classic version from the twenties, yet he sounds far more seductive and charming than anyone else I have ever heard croon that quasi-forgotten song. The quartet plays so low in "Smile" that for a second you even forget that Martin is not singing a cappella, and "Hands Across the Table" features what must be one of the most poetic lyrics that Dino ever sang: "Hands across the table / While the lights are low / Though you hush your lips / Your fingertips / Tell me all I want to know."

Halfway through the album, we find "Everybody Loves Somebody," an oldie that would become forever associated with Martin, though not in this evocative version, but in a full orchestral arrangement featuring a vocal choir and leaning clearly toward contemporary sixties pop. The new reading of the song, also recorded in 1964, quickly rose to the top of the charts at a time when the Beatles were usually monopolizing that spot. However, I have always thought that the more commercial hit version is somewhat overproduced and much prefer this earlier, more relaxed approach. The CD reissue of Dream with Dean (Collector's Choice, 2001) appropriately pairs the album with 1964's Everybody Loves Somebody, a number-two entry in the album charts for Dino, which conveniently allows us to have both versions of the song in one disc. But as good as the tracks in the second album are, Dream with Dean is the true jewel here. As Stan Cornyn wrote in the original liner notes, "Dean Martin's performance sounds deceptively simple. Don't be fooled. . . . Dean's finesse is built on a substantial substructure of hard-learned craft." Indeed, no matter what he was doing, Dino always had an uncanny ability for making the difficult come across as simple. It is only too bad that he did not choose to cut more albums like this one.









Anonymous said...

This 2 albums in one CD is good ,but seems Collector's Choice used a ''MONO'' version of the EVERYBODY LOVES SOMEBODY'' for mastering ,instead of Stereo ?,Dreamin' With Dean ..is in STEREO ,

Anonymous said...

TYPO - SOrry i meant ''DEAM WITH DEAN, NOT ''DREAMIN' ,MY bad

Anonymous said...

DREAM ,not DEAM (typo) ,sorry its early on a Sunday morning, seems im not fully awake yet.

Anton Garcia-Fernandez said...

Dear Sir,

Thank you very much for your message and for visiting the blog. I pulled out my copy of the two-fer that includes Dream with Dean and Everybody Loves Somebody, and on aural evidence, you are right: Collector's Choice seems to have used a mono version for the mastering of the latter, but I have no idea why they did something like that. As you point out, Dream with Dean is in stereo, and in fact, that is one of the things that add to the beauty of its sound.

Thanks again and please come back anytime!

Anton Garcia-Fernandez.

dino martin peters said...

Hey pallie, likes Mr. Anton what a wonder homagin' of our most beloved Dino. Cool to met 'nother who loves our Dino! Never was, never will be anyone as cool as the King of Cool...oh, to return to the days when Dino walked the earth. Know that your Dino-reflections are bein' shared this very day at ilovedinomartin. Keeps lovin' our Dino!

Anton Garcia-Fernandez said...

Mr. Peters,

Thank you very much for your very enthusiastic review about my article on Dino's Dream with Dean. There are dozens of great albums in Dino's vast discography (A Winter Romance, Swingin' Down Yonder, &c.) but Dream with Dean, with its sparse instrumentation and relaxed atmosphere, has always been my favorite. I am very glad that you enjoyed reading my article.

Thanks also for keeping the memory of the great Dean Martin alive with your ilovedinomartin blog!


Anton G.-F.

dino martin peters said...

Hey pallie, likes Mr. Anton, just tryin' to show what we tags some true Dinopalliedom...and thank YOU for your kind words 'bout our humble little ilovedinomartin Dino-blog....every so often I does likes to interview others to share their journey to our Dino with the pallies at ilovedinomartin. Would you consider bein' interviewed as how to came to know, love, and dig our most beloved Dino?

Anton Garcia-Fernandez said...

Mr. Peters,

Of course, I will be happy to do the interview that you request and share some of my experiences related to the music of the great Dean Martin with you and the readers of your Dino blog. Whenever you want, you can send me any questions that you have to the following address:

antongf7 (at) hotmail (dot) com

I will be happy to answer them!

Thanks again for keeping the memory of the incomparable Dean Martin alive in your blog!

Anton G.-F.

dino martin peters said...

Hey pallie, likes very kind of you Mr. Anton to be willin' to tell your Dino-story...I'll be in touch soon...thanks ever so much again for your kind words of appreciato for the humble little ilovedinomartin Dino-blog. Keeps lovin' our Dino!