Thursday, December 5, 2013

Bandstand Christmas Essentials 1: Dean Martin's A Winter Romance

The holiday season is upon us again, and if last year we published an article on the Christmas recordings of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Dick Haymes, three voices that are essential when it comes to providing melodies for this "most wonderful time of the year," we are now beginning a new series of posts that will hopefully become a Vintage Bandstand tradition. Entitled Bandstand Christmas Essentials, these brief reviews of holiday albums will only be published every month of December. And the first installment spotlights one of my favorite seasonal albums—Dean Martin's A Winter Romance.

Although Dean Martin recorded several Christmas songs throughout his long and successful career (as evidenced by the many anthologies of that type of material currently on the market), as well as a fine full-fledged holiday album for Reprise in 1966, it is his seasonal offering, A Winter Romance, that I would like to spotlight this year. And this is, indeed, a "seasonal" LP in the full sense of the word, for as its very title suggests, this 1959 Capitol gem is a collection of winter-themed tunes that inevitably includes a few Christmas songs, although Martin wisely stays away from traditional carols, which would not have suited the general atmosphere of the disc. Just looking briefly at the cover, it seems rather obvious that it was never anyone's intention to create a Christmas album here. The setting is a mountain ski resort, with lots of snow, a stylish cabin in the background, and people getting ready to go skiing down some slope, and everything has a definite Rockwellian feeling. But on the far left Dino is reluctantly hugging a very willing girlfriend while looking at another woman on the far right who is also suggestively smiling back at him. Not much to indicate Christmas here, unless it is that the character portrayed by Dino hopes to get to be someone's Santa sometime soon...

But as classic Dean Martin as the cover is (it somehow has always reminded me of the one from Pretty Baby, another one of his Capitol outings), we should not get too caught up in it, since the music is the important thing here. The album is bookended by two special-material tunes from the pen of Sammy Cahn and Ken Lane, the one that opens and lends its title to the LP and "It Won't Cool Off," placed as the closing track. The former is the most interesting, a beautiful melody with a lyric that appropriately sets the scene for the rest of the selections but that is somewhat misleading regarding the organization of the album. While "A Winter Romance" introduces the theme of a love story that begins during the winter, the album does not explore such a story, which is just an excuse to string together songs about snow, cold weather, winter wonderlands, and, as already noted, the holiday season.

Dino getting ready for the holidays
In between the two Cahn-Lane compositions, we find some fast-paced tracks about the joys of love during the cold season ("Winter Wonderland," "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" and "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm"), as well as some beautiful ballads like the pensive "The Things We Did Last Summer" (which Frank Sinatra had recorded superbly for Columbia in the 1940s) and the Bing Crosby evergreen "June in January." Two standouts from the album are Dino's lovely mid-tempo reading of "Canadian Sunset" and the often overlooked "Out in the Cold Again," an older song also cut by Johnnie Ray around the same time and handled by Dean with gusto and ease here. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" is undeniably the perfect vehicle for Dino's charming, happy-go-lucky persona, and instead of doing it as a duet with another singer, as is usually the case, he chooses to sing it with a female chorus, which does not work badly either. The two selections most commonly associated with the holiday season are "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," complete with Martin's ad-libbed impersonation of Santa Claus speaking with what sounds like a fake German accent and an enjoyable rendition of "White Christmas" that never strays too far away from Crosby's classic Decca recording. The orchestra and chorus are directed by the lesser-known Gus Levene, and the arrangements are always tasteful and never get in the way of Martin's singing. Finally, the CD reissue adds a bonus track to the twelve on the 1959 LP, "The Christmas Blues," another song written by Cahn but recorded six years earlier which perfectly fits the theme and mood of the album and is most welcome. The original liner notes conclude that "the music, combined with Dean's vocal artistry, succeeds in producing just the kind of lover's glow to stir everyone to humming, dancing, and romancing—whether it's hot or cold outside," and even though Dino recorded more straight-ahead Christmas offerings that are also worth owning, A Winter Romance is an album that never stops spinning on my record player every year come December.


dino martin peters said...

Anton, how wonderful to see 'nother great Dino-honorin' reflection at your wonderful blog. Couldn't agree with you more 'bout this amazin' collection of Dino-winter croons.
Your powerful prose is bein' shared this day with all the pallies gathered 'round ilovedinomartin. Hopes to see even more Dino-accented posts at your cool blog.

Anton Garcia-Fernandez said...


Thanks a lot for your very nice comments about this article on Dean's A Winter Romance, as well as for sharing it with the readers of your website. I am glad that you enjoyed it. Although it is not actually a Christmas album, I always find myself listening to this winter-themed LP every December, and it has always been one of my all-time favorite Dino efforts.

Thanks again, and have a wonderful holiday season!

Anton G.-F.

dino martin peters said...

Anton, the pleasure is all ours man...and, while our Dino did croon some more Christmas focused tunes, it is indeed his wintery efforts that are the coolest of the cool. Best of Dino-seasonal greetin's to you and yours!