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Gnarly Karma

Gnarly Karma’s “Rags to Riches”

The best songs, for me, are ripped from the blood and marrow of their composers. Gnarly Karma’s “Rags to Riches” qualifies. The Long Island, NY headquartered five piece aren’t newcomers to the scene and their growing discography has experienced notable past success, but their latest track poises them to enjoy a previously unknown level of critical and commercial notoriety. The songwriting pair of guitarist Michael Renert and drummer Jarrod Beyer are the team responsible for the track, but producer Steve Pagano has an enormous effect on the final result.

The production emphasizes balance and aural temperature. The latter refers to the overall warmth of the song’s six instruments, including voice. It is never overheated, driven into the red, but rather has an enveloping quality cocooning listeners for the song’s duration. No one component is stressed above another. Pagano underlines the band’s cohesiveness as an ensemble, born from innate chemistry and countless hours playing together, and this decision makes the listener experience even more pleasurable.

I admire the lyrical content a great deal. It is impossible given the available information who is responsible for penning the words, but their unique combination of intelligence, craftsmanship, and poetic suggestiveness is one of the song’s crowning touches. Some may read the song title and groan a little within believing they will hear cliched reworkings of well-worn themes. It isn’t the case, however. The words for this track are well worth your time to heed and relish.

They invigorate a familiar musical landscape as well. Gnarly Karma are playing this track like a band going for broke and anytime you hear that sort of commitment from the musicians involved, everything else often falls into place. “Rags to Riches” doesn’t have to be an autobiographical exercise for it to work, it succeeds in any context, but I get the feeling that they bring a big helping of their lives into everything they write and perform.

Renert and his fellow guitarist Adam Sklar never clash to these ears. It’s hard if not impossible to mark where one ends and the other begins, but their clear interplay powers much of the song’s flourish from the first. The saxophone contributions of Billy “Bad Bones” Hanley meshes with their percussive guitar work and, even on a relatively restrained track such as this, sharpens their sound. Hanley is the point of the spear.

It’s a song designed to pierce your heart. Gnarly Karma can get a crowd up and moving with the best of them, I am sure, but they are also capable of examining life thanks to songwriting talents far beyond the cookie-cutter or imitative. Their new single “Rags to Riches” continues an impressive string of successful recordings and has the potential to raise their commercial profile on their own terms and on the back of, arguably, their finest song yet. They’ll garner a bevy of new fans with this cut and it’s a thoughtful and even somewhat daring return to “normal” life post pandemic. They open their hearts on this one and play with an abandon the times demand.

photo by @mwacker7

article by John McCall



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