december 2011

Dean Martin
Released: 2006

Tacking country chanteuse Martin McBride's flirty vocal onto Dean Martin's original version of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" makes for a saucy seasonal duet, but Dino Vino needs no help making Christmas music memorable. Like the newer (as in 2011) My Kind of Christmas, Christmas With Dino presumes to present the finest moments from the two Yuletide albums Dino recorded, 1959’s A Winter Romance and 1966’s The Dean Martin Christmas Album, with the big difference being that the newer edition features him in a posthumous duet on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Scarlett Johansen, one of the worst singers ever to set foot in a recording studio. Even though Christmas With Dino is out of print and available at a hefty price from, you really don’t want to cue up Scarlett Johansen in anything but a movie.

Dino does just fine in imagining settling in with a comely partner on a forbidding night in his breezy reading of "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm," framed as it is by the lush, humming strings and perky woodwinds of Gus Levene's orchestra; he's equally persuasive reflecting dreamily on an enduring love (with an assist from Levene's full-bodied string section and a soothing female chorus) on a quintessential swooner, "A Winter Romance." From his Reprise years, he brings his playful spirit to a gently swaying treatment of the Carl Sigman-Peter DeRose beauty, "A Marshmallow World," Dino eating up the colorful "yum-yummy world" and "whipped cream day" described in the lyrics, so much so you can hear him smiling as he sings, and you can sense the fun he's having slurring for a suggestive effect when he suggests, "...take a walk with your fa-vo-rite girl." Even when exploring a melancholy lyric such as those provided by Sammy Cahn and David Holt in "The Christmas Blues," he doesn't get as down as the song title might suggest, but does use the occasion as a showcase for a lowdown swaggering vocal set against Levene's brass-heavy arrangement. Hanging with "poor Rudy" in a swinging treatment of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is a moment of great sport for Dino, but he also knows how to shelve the frolic--witness his touching, deeply reverential version of "Silent Night," with a vocal approach as subdued and probing as he ever brought to his better non-Christmas ballads and blues, really a marvel of subtle, nuanced feeling.

Dino’s version of a seasonal classic, 'It's A Marshmallow World,' written in 1949 by Carl Sigman and Peter DeRose. The first hit version came in 1950, by Bing Crosby backed by the Sonny Burke Orchestra and Lee Gordon Singers.

The tracks are evenly split between Capitol and Reprise recordings, the former produced by Lee Gillette (who was also behind the board for Jo Stafford's 1964 Yuletide gem, The Joyful Season: The Voices of Jo Stafford) and arranged by Gus Levene, the latter by first-generation rockabillies turned popmeisters Jimmy Bowen (producer, who did estimable work with Sinatra as well and later transformed modern country music during his tenure as president of MCA Nashville) and Bill Justis (arranger, he of the classic 1957 rock 'n' roll instrumental, "Raunchy"). Gillette and Levene preferred cushiony, swoon-inducing orchestral settings for Dino; Bowen and Justis, despite the romantic strings on many cuts, were a bit harder edged sonically, oftimes employing what sounds like a small combo with a driving attack. Regardless, the outcome is consistently first-rate, and for that all due credit goes to Dean Martin for his commitment to the songs and his bracing display of heart and wit. He's reputed not to have put a lot of effort into his recording career, but you wouldn’t guess that from the engaged performances on his non-seasonal fare, and on these Christmas songs he is fully in the moment. What more could Dino do than to make Christmas merry? Job done, folks. —David McGee

Christmas with Dino is available from sellers at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024