He may have played second banana to Jerry Lewis
and (later) Frank Sinatra
, but whether he was in the studio or in front of a crowd, no one carried a song (or performance) quite like Dean Martin. Martin's interpretive skills were extraordinary, and he could go from the slickest of clowning to the smoothest of crooning in a heartbeat. Collected Cool
, his first career-spanning box set, came along surprisingly late, but it's no less impressive for the late arrival. A four-disc set, it includes one disc of Capitol recordings (the '50s), one disc of Reprise recordings (the '60s through the '80s), one audio disc of a concert in Lake Tahoe from 1962, and a DVD featuring a London concert from 1983. The audio portion is an excellent selection of hits and neglected classics, with a few unreleased nuggets -- all of which deserved the excavation. The 1962 show is riotous and very entertaining, with Martin repurposing standards into new songs like "Almost Like Losin' My Mind" (instead of being in love) and "I Love Tahoe" (instead of Paris). The 1983 show is slightly more staid, and features more of the country material Martin turned to later in his career. It's easy to wish that the earlier concert was available on video, especially since some of the jokes are visual and lost on an audio-only audience, but Collected Cool
functions extremely well as the best possible overview of the aspects that made Dean Martin a star -- his peerless voice and, equally, his distinctively cool and clowning way with a crowd.