Plenty of the material on the albums can be dismissed, despite the charming Brylcreem ooze of Martin's modest, imperturbable baritone. For every triumph of irresistible silliness that is, "That's Amore" (included not on Cha Cha De Amor or Dino: Italian Love Songs but on Dean Martin Sings) these reissues offer two shaggy-dog shrug-alongs. Blame the troughs in listenability on the trend (pioneered for the same label by Martin's pal Frank Sinatra) of bundling songs by theme rather than by quality.
Here, then, is a guide to the highlights of three solid Martin concept records ... and five he should have made.
Album: This Time I'm Swingin'!
Concept: Martin borrows Sinatra's hat and his best arranger, Nelson Riddle.
Highs: A woozy "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face," a devilish "Heaven Can Wait"
Low: Bonus track "Choo'n Gum"
Album: Swingin' Down Yonder
Concept: Look at the cover.
High: All involved must have been very high. Still, only Martin could have sold "When It's Sleepy Time Down South."
Lows: Actually, none.
Album: Hey, Brother, Pour the Wine
Concept: Capitol leftovers capitalizing on the resurgent Martin, who pushed the Beatles out of the No. 1 spot on the singles chart in 1964 (with "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime") for Sinatra's new label, Reprise.
High: The absurd title track
Low: The more absurd "Peddler Man (Ten I Loved)"
Album: Sings Favorite Italian Recipes
Concept: While on Capitol, Martin invested in a chain of Italian restaurants called "Dino's." Really.
High: "Gnocchi to My Heart,"
Low: "Meatball Grinder"
Album: When I Go a-Fishin'
Concept: The riverboat gambler of Down Yonder hits the sandbar.
Highs "My Tackle, Your Box"
Low: "That's My Line"
Album: Dean Martin: Craps!
Concept: The man, whose death Las Vegas observed by dimming its lights, rolls straight sevens with a tribute to his favorite town.
High: "Fuzzy Dice"
Low: "Poker? I Hardly Know Her"
Album: Dean Martin's Block Party
Concept: Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. shared many stages over the years, but before the wham of Sam came the shocks of Foxx. Dino works blue with black old-schoolers Redd Foxx, Moms Mabley, etc.
High: Martin's musical version of the Foxx routine "Mother Frockers and Cork Suckers"
Low: The all-cast Beatles medley "The Slappy White Album"
Album: Laundry Day
Concept: Inspired by Sinatra's devastating "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry," Martin recorded this bittersweet, fabric-soft set.
Highs: "Drip Dry," "Love on the Line"
Low: "Dye, Jerry, Dye"