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Thursday, August 23, 2007
Who's Got The Action?
Somewhere right now, someone is discovering the magic of Dean Martin. Since I am a purist a heart, that is thought that I keep telling myself while playing the new Dean Martin FOREVER COOL duets album. However, unlike an embarrassing new Miles Davis remix cd, this re-thinking of some of the most iconic music around is thankfully a very classy and sincere affair.
One thing that separates the new Dean Martin cd from a typical major label cash in is that this album is obviously coming from a place of love and respect. Recorded live in Capital's famous Studio A with the singers adding their vocals to Deans with a live orchestra backing them. FOREVER COOL has a refreshingly organic sound about it. The producers, including Phil Ramone, have done a remarkable job in making this album sound simultaneously vintage and fresh.
Another intelligent thing that this album delivers on is never taking the spotlight away from Dean. He is always the center of attention and none of the new singers attempt to steal the spotlight or out sing Dean. Compare this album to the Miles Davis project, where Davis' pioneering music is buried under bland and boring hip hop beats, and it sounds truly remarkable.
So of the new duet partners, who comes out the best? Well, the album kick starts with a smoking WHO'S GOT THE ACTION featuring modern Swing act Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and it is a tremendous track with with Voodoo Daddy sounding like they were made for Dean's slow burning cool spirit. It is one of the definite highlights to the album and an ideal opening cut.
Kevin Spacey is featured on two tracks and they are okay. Spacey has a lot of Broadway background and that comes through here with his slightly stagy vocals. He obviously loves Dean though and both AIN'T THAT A KICK IN THE HEAD and KING OF THE ROAD are still perfectly respectable even with Spacey's vocals.
The producer's were also smart enough to not just have vocal duets with Dean but also some new instrumental partners. Chris Botti adds a sublime trumpet solo to the lovely I'VE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO HER FACE which sounds completely natural and adds a newer layer of depth to the track. The infectiously sly WHO WAS THAT LADY features The Capital Studio Orchestra and again the producers manage to keep the newly recorded background and Dean's vocals in perfect step. Unfortunately Dave Koz's sax solo on JUST IN TIME is a bit distracting and takes away from Dean's wonderful vocal track.
BABY O is still a seductive cool treat and Paris Bennett brings a nice touch to the song. Massive fan Robbie Williams addition to PLEASE DON'T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I'M GONE is also very successful, even if it is a case of someone trying to sound cool singing with someone who just naturally is. Still, I like Williams and he does a fine job with the difficult song.
Probably the album's most disappointing moment is I CAN'T BELIEVE THAT YOU'RE IN LOVE WITH ME, matching up Dean with young British soul sensation Joss Stone. I really admire Stone and was looking forward to this track but it is finally just a case of their two voices not matching well together. Stone's buesy full throttle vocal style suits someone like Tom Jones perfectly but hers and Dean's laid back in style simply don't fit, at least on this track anyway.
Country singer Martina McBride's BABY, IT'S COLD OUTSIDE is a little more successful but it is one of the less natural sounding tracks on the album as the producer's chose to have the two trading lines with each other which at times doesn't work.
Thankfully bad ass super talent Shelby Lynne saves the day with her magnificent take on YOU'RE NOBODY TILL SOMEBODY LOVES YOU. One of the few modern singers who possesses a real natural cool about her, Shelby and Dean sound perfect together, and the track is so real sounding that you can almost imagine the two of them kicked back in the studio afterwards talking about Elvis and their favorite old time country classics. Splendid stuff.
Italian singer Tiziano Ferro adds his part to the ARRIVEDERCI ROMA and it is pretty awesome. Dean's Italian themed songs have long been underrated and this track has a real lazy, hot baked feel about it and Ferro does a great job on it.
The duets close with the 'French Sinatra' Charles Aznavour joining Dean on the legendary EVERYBODY LOVES SOMEBODY. The aging but still classy Aznavour brings a real melancholy to the track and the newly recorded laid back orchestration and guitar work is really lovely.
The album closes with a newly discovered A Capella take of Dean's BRAHAM'S LULLABY and it is a chilling, emotional listen. I can't imagine someone hearing this short two minute track and not falling in love with Dean's voice. You can really hear the brilliance of the man Elvis called his favorite singer in these short moments. It is a fine closing to a mostly solid and respectful project.
The special edition of the album comes with 22 minute DVD featuring some joyous home movies of Dean and his family that teared me up a bit and interviews with some of the collaborators. My favorite clip on the dvd, outside of the home movies of course, is a nervous Shelby Lynne live in the studio laying her fine vocal down and clearly enjoying the hell out of it.
FOREVER COOL has just landed in the top forty and it is a splendid companion to some of Martin's best Capital work. While not taking the place of the originals, the producers, Dean's children and the international group of collaborators should be congratulated for making such a thoughtful and joyous tribute to a guy who really deserves all the respect he is finally getting.