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“Rags to Riches” by Gnarly Karma

Gnarly Karma are a New York State based quintet with a diversified sound rooted in guitar rock. Their twin guitar attack expresses itself with weave-like effect in their latest single “Rags to Riches”, taking time to flesh out the composition’s colors and rising to crescendos at the right points. They come across like a veteran outfit at or near the peak of their powers.

I am especially taken with the interplay between bass player Ryan “McMagic” McAdam and drummer Jarrod “J-Rock” Beyer. Producer Steve Pagano builds the new single’s sonic identity from the fruits of their musical partnership and the other players respond to their rock-solid musicality. Pagano’s production, likewise, frames their contributions in such a way they are an ever-present discernible quality in the mix rather than minimized to sub-sonic window dressing like other bands often do. Music like this should have weight in the engine room that keeps the song moving as well. “Rags to Riches” satisfies anyone searching for such music.

I love the slowly mounting drama Gnarly Karma builds from the outset. It is deliberate yet never inhibited. Instead of taking the big chances, this is a band who realizes its more important for a cadre of musicians to take the right chances instead. They do so and reward listener’s attention with several well-timed shifts layered into the arrangement.

I’m a great fan of Michael Renert’s wide-open emotive vocals. He never attempts to hog the spotlight. His talent for inhabiting the song’s lyrics, however, is especially impressive considering he plays second guitar for the band, as well. They are relatively unique, without a doubt, for the prominent role brass has in their presentation. Billy Hanley’s saxophone work is integral to the sound and, undoubtedly, is a driving force behind their live success.

They achieve a gradual ebb and flow that carries you towards the cut’s inevitable conclusion. It’s a patient song. There is a surehanded finesse behind every component that wisely never exaggerates the song’s reality. It’s grounded and will connect with a wide audience. Gnarly Karma, whatever level of fame they achieve, will get there playing by their own rules and choosing concessions when they dovetail with their aims.

This separates them from the pack. Authentic music that lives in today is increasingly difficult to discover in the rock genre without a lot of searching. “Rags to Riches” is, obviously, a composed song, but the band communicates it to listeners as natural as breathing. There is no audible strain. It, likewise, comes across as an intensely personal experience, never embarrassing however, but if it is invented from whole cloth, it is an even more impactful listening experience.

Dual intentions of affecting listener’s emotions and perspective whilst entertaining them is an increasingly rare proposition, as well. Gnarly Karma are in this life to put their hearts out there, no doubt of that, but they want to enjoy and expand on a communal experience with their listeners, studio or live. The latter is where they live and breathe, to be sure, but “Rags to Riches” and earlier singles are important work that deserves to be heard. 

Mindy McCall



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