“Rags to Riches” by Knarly Karma
It’s a good time to be reflective. Gnarly Karma’s latest single “Rags to Riches” is the next up in a string of winning songs for the Huntington, New York based five piece. Producer Steve Pagano has a good artistic rapport with the quintet evident in every second of this judiciously written gem. It incorporates the three-headed musical monster of guitarists Adam Sklar, Michael Renert, and saxophonist Billy Hanley without ever stretching listener’s patience; there’s no sense of instrumental overkill threatening its musical balance.
The mood, without question, is taking stock. It isn’t making any sort of profound statement, but Gnarly Karma have seized upon their own language. It restates emotions we all relate to while still feeling like it possesses some sort of deep roots in the singer Renert’s world. It is never overstated, however. Renert and his co-writer drummer Jarrod Beyer are careful to measure out the song’s movements without ever slipping into self-indulgence.
It’s like they’ve been doing this for a long time. Gnarly Karma are far from rookies. “Rags to Riches”, though, has a near-cinematic texture as Renert and the remaining four members work as a cohesive unit delivering on the song’s potential. Every moving part throughout this piece is geared towards ushering the track towards a satisfying and inevitable conclusion. This sort of comprehensive approach to music making isn’t a characteristic shared by near-newcomers or their ilk.
The lyrical perspective of “Rags to Riches” is equally engrossing. Songs with a title such as this create certain expectations for listeners and, to an extent, Gnarly Karma doesn’t disappoint. They go in their own direction ultimately, however, and Renert displays individual phrasing that never risks imitation. It provides ample material for his voice to work with and the vocal phrasing he achieves is among the highlights of the track.
Renert and Sklar make for a potent pair on guitar. There’s a long list, naturally, of two guitar lineups in this style. What sets the two apart, however, isn’t blistering lead work or soaring dual leads. Instead, Sklar and Renert distinguish themselves for sharing a common wavelength as few instrumental teams do and their natural desire to serve the song unites their playing as well. They have chops to burn, without question, but have fully developed artistic sensibilities that restrain them from showing off without reason.
Incorporating sax into the main thrust of their musical attack could have backfired. Gnarly Karma, fortunately, discovered the right musician to fill the role for their band and blend his contributions in well with the standard rock four piece configuration. Brass covers tonal qualities unavailable on guitar, but the instruments share enough commonalities that Hanley’s saxophone further strengthens their already robust sound.
We’ll be hearing more from this band and soon. Gnarly Karma isn’t the sort to stand pat or mark time. The return of live concerts as the pandemic subsides will, hopefully, continue and it’s natural to expect their recent spate of singles will figure prominently in the band’s live set. “Rags to Riches” will rank high for some time to come among the band’s recorded works.