Scharpling & Wurster and Spring Record Reviews

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Along with the warm weather, this season brings a new crop of exciting album releases from major artists. Jim and Greg get you up to speed by offering a review roundup of new releases from Alabama Shakes, Mumford & Sons, Sufjan Stevens, and Van Hunt. Plus, a conversation with The Best Show’s Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster.

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In 2014, Iggy Azalea’s Fancy was the definitive song of the summer. In the past few years, tracks by Robin Thicke, Katy Perry and Rihanna dominated the charts without much competition. And while many summer hits are released in the springtime, it’s already and a frontrunner for the 2015 song of the summer has yet to emerge. In fact, Greg and Jim couldn’t even think of many contenders. Could there be no winner in 2015?

Tom Scharpling & Jon Wurster of The Best Show

The Best Show seamlessly combines the elements of comedy and music and subsequently has built up a cult following over the years. The program began on WFMU back in 2000 and continues today as a podcast. The hosts, comedian Tom Scharpling and Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster, call into the show in character, adopting the guise of various inhabitants of the fictional town of Newbridge, NJ. The Best Show recently announced its 16-disc box set and live national tour to celebrate its anniversary. Scharpling & Wurster join Jim and Greg to talk about some of their favorite calls, characters and moments throughout the show’s 15-year history.

Wilder Mind Mumford & Sons

Wilder Mind (Deluxe Version)

Mumford & Sons has had a Judas! moment with the release of their new album Wilder Mind...they’ve gone electric. That’s right, no banjos or accordions on this album. Jim and Greg both feel this was a step in the wrong direction. Greg thought that the band’s initial albums and live shows hinted at something interesting with their thoughts on life, love and religion. However with this new album, Mumford has become more generic. Jim has never liked Mumford and feels this album is in the vein of Springsteen and U2...not a good thing. They both give Wilder Mind a Trash It.

Sound & Color Alabama Shakes

Sound & Color

Alabama Shakes has the sometimes difficult task of topping a great debut album. With its new release, Sound & Color, Jim and Greg both think Shakes cleared the hurdle with flying colors. Greg says that the band has really utilized the studio to offer a multitude of soundscapes and Brittany Howard’s deeply personal lyrics are a great compliment to the sound which mixes soul, rock and blues. Jim thinks the sound of this album is kaleidoscopic, and, like Greg, gives this album a Buy It rating.

Carrie & Lowell Sufjan Stevens

Carrie & Lowell

Sufjan Stevens has developed a huge fanbase of people who love his orchestral compositions and plaintive lyrics. However Jim and Greg have never counted themselves among those people. With the release of his new album, Carrie & Lowell, he seems to have converted Greg. Mr. Kot was deeply moved by Stevens’s frank talk about the death of his mother and compares the album to that of the late great Elliot Smith. He gives the album a Buy It rating. Jim, however, has not changed his mind. He thinks Stevens is boring musically and wishes he wrote short stories and poems rather than releasing albums. He gives Carrie & Lowell an emphatic Trash It rating.

The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets Van Hunt

The Fun Rises, the Fun Sets.

Atlanta multi-instrumentalist Van Hunt has flirted with mainstream R&B success, but his genre-hopping tendencies have kept him from a wider audience. Jim thinks that’s a shame, as his latest album The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets confirms that Van Hunt is one of the most innovative voices in neo-soul music along with Kendrick Lamar and D’Angelo. Jim sees both depth and joy in the record. The lascivious, erotically charged moments are naughty, yet never offensive. Van Hunt’s musical prowess is on fine display, as he plays every instrument himself. Greg hears The Fun Rises as more narrowly focused than the previous album What Were You Hoping For? in a good way, showcasing a more uniform trippy funk style. For Greg, it’s a record that works equally well for headphone listening as for dancing. Both critics give Van Hunt a Buy It.

Jim

Although Jim is no fan of his new record, Sufjan Stevens got Jim thinking about rock music that has a literary vibe. Taken from his 1986 album Element of Light, Raymond Chandler Evening by Robyn Hitchcock is an excellent example of a novel in song form. Not only is the title a reference to the great American crime writer Raymond Chandler, but the general mood of the song also evokes the mysterious atmosphere of noir fiction. Some Hitchcock fans who were expecting more of his trademark surrealism might have been surprised by the lack of humor in the song, but Jim thinks it ranks right alongside the best of Dylan. Raymond Chandler Evening is his pick this week for the Desert Island Jukebox.

Dear Listeners,

For more than 15 years, Sound Opinions was a production of WBEZ, Chicago's public radio station. Now that the show is independent, we're inviting you to join the band and lend a hand! We need your support more than ever because now we have to do all the behind-the-scenes work that WBEZ handled before (like buying insurance and paying for podcast hosting, ugh). Plus, we have some exciting ideas we'd like to try now that there's no one to tell us no!