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He looked more laid back in a tux than most men will ever look in a pair of jeans. His persona was playfully seductive, effervescent yet down to earth. And his singing? No one ever owned a song with such breezy command as Dean Martin. He was, and is, the quintessence of cool.
Whether you see Dean Martin as an iconic, velvet-voiced crooner or a repugnant symbol of Vegas excess, Forever Cool is a fascinating--if flawed--experiment in keeping the celebrated performer contemporary. A reworking of his vocal tracks as duets with internationally known collaborators (from British singer Joss Stone to Italian chart-topper Tiziano Ferro), the album additionally features new arrangements as well as one previously unreleased track (an a cappella version of "Brahms' Lullaby"), all seamlessly mixed with droll studio banter ("Last time I was this hot I had a kid") that gives the recording a palpable immediacy. In keeping the new instrumental backing tasteful and smart, producers Rob Christie, Phil Ramone, Patrick Williams, and Bobby Colomby spotlight Martin's considerable vocal skills and rescue him from his unctuous, drunk, and schmaltzy self-caricaturizing, even as some of the spoken prattle threatens to lift the martini glass to that trait. While trumpeter Chris Botti and saxophonist Dave Koz prove sparkling choices as collaborators, the selection of vocal guests sometimes seem head-scratchingly strange. Stone, who appears on "I Can't Believe That You're in Love with Me," is far too husky a singer to pair with Martin's smooth mega-baritone (and one can't help but think she could be his great-granddaughter), while Paris Bennett, the American Idol finalist, comes off as lightweight as Tinkerbell. Perhaps not surprisingly, actor/singer Kevin Spacey, with his hipster Bobby Darin chops, comes closest to matching Martin's joie de vivre, while Martina McBride's elastic, adaptive soprano makes her the most believable female counterpart, even as she is forced to truncate her usual phrasing. All in all, this is a thoroughly enjoyable invitation to a fantasy cocktail party where Dino is always, and ever, the star. --Alanna Nash