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.
The album has more of a focus on “Love” than “Italian”, so don’t let titles like “Non Dimenticar” and “Arrivederci, Roma” put you off because Martin sings mostly in English. The subject matter of the songs is straightforward, ranging from longing for in songs such as “I Have But One Heart (‘O Marenariello)” and “Vieni Su (Say You Love Me, Too)” to love lost in “You’re Breaking My Heart (Mattinata)” and “My Heart Reminds Me”.
Martin covers “There’s No Tomorrow”, which sounded very familiar and the liner notes explained why. It was one of the many versions of the Neapolitan classic “O Sole Mio”. What was even more amazing to learn is that I couldn’t believe I had never put together that Elvis Presley’s “It’s Now or Never” was also derived from it. It’s so obvious once you know, but I had never noticed it before.
The four bonus tracks are comprised of rare singles-only releases that were recorded previously and expand the premise to European love songs since the “Belle from Barcelona” isn’t from Italy. “Simpatico” came from Martin & Lewis’ You’re Never Too Young. “Giuggiola”, which took 31 takes, and “Bella Bella Bambina” were arranged by Nelson Riddle.
Dino-Italian Love Songs is an enjoyable album of popular music from the early ’60s that showcases Martin’s smooth vocals. Everyone will be able to identify with these love songs, though it will have a greater impact on my Italian brothers and sisters.