Cool Then Cool Now Box set, Import
Dean Martin: "Cool Then, Cool Now," is a collection of music and intimate family photos that capture the essence, spirit and fullness of Dean Martin's life. Presented as a hardcover photo album this unique collection showcases Dean as The Entertainer, The Family Man, The Sportsman, The Man-About-Town & The Movie Star. The book includes 2 CDs (28 songs in total) and features tributes from some of the people that knew him best including comedian and co-star Jerry Lewis, Academy Award winning actress and co-star Shirley Maclaine. Also included are tributes from legendary golfer Arnold Palmer, and global star Robbie Williams.
It's important to note that "cool then, cool now" is not a biography or expose; there are several books that fit that bill (try Shawn Levy's Rat Pack Confidential), but this Dean Martin Family Trust effort is essentially a photo album. With the exception of a forward from Kevin Spacey and brief intros at the beginning of each major section, the only words in the book are captions under the photos. That said, the writing that does appear is nicely done -- just enough to lend some context, humor and poignancy to the great pictures.
Speaking of the pics, the quality of the photography and the book overall is excellent. The photos are beautiful -- looking and feeling like actual photographs -- you'll find yourself trying not to touch them when turning the pages!
The book is laid out in life-sections following a one page introduction from Kevin Spacey. Spacey's forward is a well written tribute to Dean, the actor, performer... and of course the king of cool. Spacey does a nice job of showing how Dean -- a generation away -- made such a difference in Kevin's approach to acting and performing. It's a surprisingly personal and sentimental slice of Spacey and a great leadoff for the book.
The first section is briefly introduced by Robbie Williams, who also sings a remastered Please Don't Talk About Me duet with Dean on the CD. This section is a mix of studio shots of a completely "at ease" Martin while he's recording the classic songs we all remember, along with some great stage shots of Dean with the Rat Pack regulars. The stage shots are great but very familiar. My favorite material in this section are the studio shots. For some reason Dean's coolness resonates best with me when I see him genuinely relaxed and delivering "the smooth" during these recording sessions.
The Family Man...
Gail Martin Downey leads us into the typical family photo section with a loving daughter's perspective on growing up with "the charming guy everybody watched on Thursday nights". The photos cover candid and composed family shots with all the kids and wives. As I mentioned before, this is not a comprehensive collection -- none of the sad moments that befell Dean late in life and that's just fine. This book is all about the cool happy times and this section is just a big slice of the good life at the Martin family house.
The Man About Town...
With a funny intro by Shirley MacLaine this section of the book delivers exactly what you expect -- Dean out on the town with scores of stars from stage, screen and politics. Great shots of Dean carousing with the biggest stars ... and all the while you know he'd rather get home early so he could make his tee time in the morning! Which leads us to...
Given Dean's passion for golf this section is appropriately intro'd with a brief anecdote from Arnold Palmer. Only 5 pages of golf and a couple of Dodger's photos, this is the shortest section of the 60 page book.
The Movie Star...
A fun photo review of Martin's prime movie appearances from 1953 to 1970 with a poignant introduction from Jerry Lewis. These are great pics from a score of movies with my favorite being the classic photo of Dean, Frank, Sam and Peter around a pool table in "Oceans 11' -- gorgeous period shot ... everybody in their prime.
Dual CD Remix Album...
The back cover contains a dual CD remaster of 26 classic Dean Martin favorites, plus synthetic duets with Kevin Spacey ("Ain't That A Kick In The Head") and Robbie Williams ("Please Don't Talk About Me"). The 26 classic Dean Martin songs are nicely remastered but not really meaningfully different from their counterpart versions available on any number of Martin Albums. It's a nice compilation... complements the photos nicely, but nothing special and not worth rehashing here. If you're looking for something new or rare, you won't find it in this compilation.
With regard to the duets... sigh. OK, I have a problem with synthetic duets in general (check out my "Duets with the Dead" post on the Vocalstandards site), but my weird moral issues aside both the Spacey and Williams duets are well produced, sound great and come off natural. They are both enjoyable tracks -- they're not worth buying this book/album to get, but nice additions if you've already plopped your money down. Which brings me to...
Though this is a combo photo album and dual CD compilation, "DEAN MARTIN cool then, cool now" is worth picking up only if you're into the photo essay side of the equation. The music is a nice addition but the high quality photo collection is where the real value lies. And that value is probably only worth it to avowed Dean Martin hyper-fans or collectors (where I reside to be sure). Hey, when you gotta have it, you gotta have it!