So what's different this time round? Well, there's perhaps a deeper sincerity, but the best tracks are the ones that capture a certain youthful wonder and whimsy.
In The Lion has a buzzing, African-style energy, with a beautiful bassline, and lyrics which seem to smile in the face of the world's crazy ways. And In The Summer captures the hazy, lazy delight of an aimless, hot, day.
In contrast, If I Were Free lopes along in an old regretful rocker style, that somehow swings into a Beatles-esque Yellow Submarine section mid-song, yet Ebert's voice holds it together.
There's no surprises or significant updates with album number three, but it's a pleasing enough addition to their work.
The shock to this album’s system arrives when Castrinos saunters into Ebert’s spotlight, crafting vibes more Jefferson Airplane than the Johnny Cash and June Carter-esque banter of previous entries. Although Ebert’s falsetto toppling over the group’s harmony electrifies, the track gets its boots knocked when Castrinos’s Grace Slick-like croon enchants a minute and a half in. Her solo vocal performance on in “Remember to Remember” fails to rival Here’s shiniest gem, “Fiya Wata”, but it further validates her talents as she instructs us that life’s journey isn’t a solo trip: “You don’t walk alone/ As the storm it rages/ Be not afraid/ Let it pass.” In a form true to the outfit, the references to God are left up for interpretation: make the all-holy being whatever you want, and that’s just fine by this gal.
Even despite her standout moments and Ebert’s assurance that Edward Sharpe is now something much bigger than him and a rehab-inspired alter-ego, the whole thing is his show, through and through. He relaxes with “In the Summer” (essentially a modern-day take on Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime”) and channels David Bowie on the mini musical that is “Life is Hard” (while lines like “Life is it/ It’s where it’s at/ It’s getting skinny, getting fat/ It’s falling deep into a love/ It’s getting crushed just like a bug” seem juvenile on paper, the message rings universal and the music undeniable). On the thumping lead single “Better Days” and album closer “This Life”, he admits that not every day can be a walk in the park (or a music festival).
His raspy excitement tames itself as he faces his issues with mortality on the latter, a bluesy nearly six-minute dance with death (“I’ve been trying to pretend/ That death is my friend/Oh this life/ This life ain’t for me”). The drugs, the band, the beard – for Ebert, it all boils down to his questions of what we’re doing here and where we go when it’s all over. Accepting that the answer could very well be nowhere, his lyrics may tell us this life isn’t for him, but the music reveals that Ebert has made himself the life that is for him. Couple the track with the clattering and twangy “Country Calling”, an anthem for anyone whose planted themselves in a city only to long for the road, and the success of Edward Sharpe manifests.