Collector’s Choice Music is re-releasing both the Dean Martin Capitol Records and Reprise catalogs. While Martin had recorded many Italian love songs over his career, this album was the first devoted entirely to that style. It was recorded over three nights in September 1961, and by the time of its release in February 1962, Martin had made the move over to his friend Frank Sinatra’s label, Reprise. Dino-Italian Love Songs was his most successful for Capitol.
I admit at the outset that I am completely biased in my review because I am unable to objectively focus on the music alone. This album has a magical effect of transporting me back to being a young child, spending time with my Italian grandparents back in Buffalo, NY as I grew up in the '70s. Whether riding in my grandfather’s enormous Buick or sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen while snacking on carrots or a salad as she made dinner, the AM radio always played easy listening, romantic ballads that were dominated at the time, certainly in my memory, by Italians: Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Perry Como, Vic Damone, Jerry Vale and of course, Dean Martin. With each listen, I am overwhelmed by warm, loving memories of my youth and family, and am fully aware that the album will not have the same impact on different ethnicities.
Dino-Italian Love Songs presents a different side of Dean Martin. Here, he isn’t the cool, swingin’, Las Vegas Rat Pack member but the suave, romantic crooner whose expressive voice and phrasing ooze heartache. The lush arrangements of Gus Levene set the mood and evoke a sense of Italy with its use of strings, accordions, mandolins, and vibes. On some of the songs, an angelic choir backs Martin and their voices elevate love to a heavenly pursuit, although the more cynical and jaded will probably find that way of thinking sappy and corny.