REVIEW: Gnarly Karma — Rags to Riches (SINGLE)

“You know what they say about bein’ nice to the right people on the way up, sooner or later you’re gonna meet ’em on the way down”.

Bob Dylan, “Foot of Pride”

Gnarly Karma has a new single, “Rags to Riches”, that stands as arguably the deepest bit of songwriting yet from this quintet. Band members drummer Jarrod Beyer and singer/guitarist Michael Renert pour a great deal of personal experience into the Huntington, NY band’s new release and the latter, in particular, owns every line of this latest gem. His vocals never slip into overkill and, despite its rock inclinations, fill the words with the kind of soulfulness it demands. Emotion can take even time-tested subjects and themes like those heard in “Rags to Riches” and make them sound as fresh as the driven snow.


They sound like a band who has learned a lot in other ways. You can break the five piece lineup down into two essential camps co-existing and creating side by side. The first is the trio of Renert, second guitarist Adam Sklar, and saxophonist Billy Hanley. These three musicians are the chief melodic unit for the band and they play in near-perfect sympathy with one another. Anyone fortunate enough to work in collaborative creative units understands the sort of telepathy that can occur between like-minded people and there sounds like plenty of that afoot during “Rags to Riches”.

The second half of the band’s musical identity is drummer Jarrod Beyer and bassist Ryan McAdam. It is a testament to their talents that the pair can exert such an influence over the song’s trajectory while never dominating its sound. They create a steadily building arc listeners can follow without ever sounding heavy-handed or, even worse, uncreative. Gnarly Karma are not dazzling technicians here, that isn’t what their music is about, and there’s ample imagination in every facet of the single.

The words are as precise as the music is free and loose. Confidence, however, is a common denominator. “Rags to Riches” sounds like it is written with absolute sureness about the author’s intentions and speaks to listeners without artifice. Anyone who likes this band and opts to follow them from this point can rest assured Gnarly Karma will continue producing music that is honest and speaks to experiences many of us, in one fashion or another, can share.

Such art is in short supply these days. Perhaps, with the tentative return to normalcy we are currently experiencing, we’ll see an uptick in such things. Gnarly Karma didn’t spend their lockdown brooding, they remained productive, and “Rags to Riches” sounds like the band became deeper, as well, during the time away. The musicianship, songwriting polish, and five star production in evidence throughout “Rags to Riches”, the latter attributable to Steve Pagano and Mario Borgatta, are operating at the highest level. We can expect the same from Gnarly Karma in the years to come. This East Coast act is braced to reach a wider audience than ever before with their latest studio recording.

Colin Jordan