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Chez Lounge re-issues

Dean Martin, Desi Arnaz, and Mel Torme have new compilations of old hits

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Chez Lounge re-issues

The hills are alive with the sound of old music. The trickle of CD reissues is now a flash flood as dozens of compilations and rereleases pop up each month. In this special section, we sample spring’s digitally remastered offerings.

When Salvatore Ritz and I labored proudly in the worst band in our high school, the one group we hated most in the world was Dino, Desi & Billy. To all good, full-of-themselves rockers like Sal and me, that trio was a joke — TV land’s out-of-it conception of a rock band. The only musical figures we held in lower contempt were their famous fathers (Billy’s excluded). Dean Martin and Desi Arnaz seemed like the most egregious of all musical jokes — goofy, disengaged, and not very talented.

Two new collections of the early studio recordings of Martin and Arnaz, Dean Martin: The Capitol Years and The Best of Desi Arnaz the Mambo King, provide the first opportunity in decades to reassess both performers as musical artists. And, upon listening to the 40 Martin tracks from 1948 to 1961 and the 16 Arnaz cuts from 1946 through 1949, I have to say, they really are jokes. Now, however, I get the jokes.

Throughout his early recording career, just as always on the screen, Dean Martin oozed a cocksure nonchalance that’s the basic chemical formula of pre-rock cool. He sang, often in a mutter or slur, as if no one were listening, balancing the sentiment of ’50s material such as ”Only Trust Your Heart” with dozy cynicism. Much the same, Desi Arnaz was not a great vocal technician, but the orchestras he led were consistently dynamic (particularly on instrumentals such as ”Brazil”) and, like Martin, his performances were effortlessly charismatic.

There’s no new box for Billy’s dad. But in the proper what’s-he-doing-in-this-group spirit, there is a comprehensive, beautifully packaged four-CD compilation of 41 years in the recording career of one of the most able crooners of the Martin/Arnaz generation, Mel Torme. He’s a real musician, and it shows in the dozens of bravura performances in The Mel Torme Collection (1944-1985). If only Torme had a touch of Dino or Desi’s wit. Capitol Years: A- Mambo King: B- Mel Torme: B+