Last August was an awful one for me, and as I reflect on it I find my music preferences echoing those from last year as well. That means Alice in Chains [AIC], whose music I often turn to when I'm depressed and need to work through it. Layne Staley's powerful voice meets its counterpart in Jerry Cantrell's grungy, driving guitar, creating a unique style that's subsequently been attempted, but never met, by others since. Dirt is typically first up; and Them Bones takes me right where I need to be. Down in a Hole, then the pulsing, varied Sickman keep me there. When I'm really low, Dirt -- the song -- lays it out better than anything I've heard, although I don't share its finger-pointing. Next comes Facelift. It has the hits We Die Young and Man in the Box, but what I'm after is Sea of Sorrow (another hit) and Bleed the Freak. Then, the gorgeously dark, dichotomized EP Jar of Flies closes up. I call it dichotomized because some of Cantrell's guitar work is flat-out beautiful, while the Staley's vocals continue to probe deep, dark places. It's hard to cull a few tracks as noteworthy from this short, intense disk; my favorites include Nutshell, No Excuses, Swing on This, Don't Follow -- which is the song that led me to buy my first AIC disk -- and the wailing instrumental Whale and Wasp.
For those more interested in individualist themes, songs across the AIC corpus take on important social issues. Best known perhaps is the exploration of drug use -- which ultimately killed Layne Staley -- and individual responsibility. I hope Rooster won't enjoy a resurgence of popularity as an anthem for the Iraq war veterans, but expect it will. Alice in Chains' style may have, in part, triggered the grunge sound, but it's so much more than that. It's heavy metal, but imminently listenable metal with evocative (if mostly dark) lyrics. Rich stuff, whether you're depressed or not -- and one of my favorite groups.
A quite different sound also gets my attention when I'm down -- the Dave Matthews Band [DMB]. Although I first bought Under the Table and Dreaming because of Ants Marching, it's Rhyme & Reason, with its refrain of "my head won't leave my head alone", and Pay for What You Get, that get cued up from it. When I'm more cheerful the entire album gets played. Busted Stuff is what I focus on more -- specifically, Grey Street, Digging a Ditch, and Big Eyed Fish.
For more normal listening fare, DMB delivers interesting music aplenty. Individualistic themes populate both the aforementioned releases, most notably in Typical Situation and Captain. Looking through our music directory, I see we've other DMB releases, of which Before These Crowded Streets is the most appealing, since Bela Fleck and Alanis Morissette guest on it. With the interesting instrumentations, including the hot sax and bouncy fiddle that interplay nicely with Matthews' smooth voice, the Dave Matthews Band is certainly a group that has earned more of my attention.
Okay, enough with the downer music. The pick-me-up I've been using this year isn't a band as such, but rather a composer whom I've enjoyed since childhood: Henry Mancini. Where can I possibly begin with someone as prolific and diverse as Mr. Pink Panther? I guess that's as good a place as any -- the Pink Panther Soundtrack and The Ultimate Pink Panther. While that's possibly the music Mancini's best known for, I recall hearing Moon River, from his music for Breakfast at Tiffany's, and adoring it, when quite young. While it was Emerson, Lake, and Palmer's cover of the Peter Gunn theme that introduced me to that music, I wasn't surprised at all, years later, to discover that Mancini did the Peter Gunn music. Wonderful stuff that gets regular placement in my music queue -- and that's no mean feat given the musical riches I have available.
And on and on I could go ... Mancini Salutes Sousa, The Latin Sound of Henry Mancini, The Concert Sound of Henry Mancini, Mancini Country, even Music of Hawaii: Mancini's got something for just about every musical taste. If you want just one recommendation to get you started on this wonderful composer's corpus, I recommend Midnight, Moonlight, and Magic: The Very Best of Henry Mancini. It helps if you like the flute, as Mancini got his musical start on that instrument and it figures prominently in a significant element of his work, but his talent far outshines one instrument and one genre of music. Henry Mancini's music is lush orchestration at its best; and I dare you to keep your toes from tapping through more than one song.