Gnarly Karma – Classic Breeze
This release has quite a range of sounds. There are some things that remain constant, the saxophone being one of them. Beyond that, though, a few pieces don’t really seem to fit. Also, the lyrics don’t seem to have a lot of depth to them, with a few exceptions. I tend to prefer music with meaning. Still, most of this is very effective in terms of just “feel good” music.
The opening song bears the title “Open Up” with the parenthetical “Let Yourself Go.” The saxophone weaves great lines of sound in the arrangement on the piece. Harmonica lends a down home kind of thing. It is a jam band styled treatment that works quite effectively. It’s less about the lyrical message and more about a good time.
Based on more of an insistent folk music sound, “Please Come Home” has some great feeling and emotion. The drums pound forward in the later parts of the cut. The twist later in the track is unexpected. Again, the lyrics don’t really seem to have a lot of substance. I can really make out a lot of jazz vibe on the third song, “Directions.” That’s blended with more of a roots rock sound. It just has a shuffling kind of cool to it.
The lyrics on “Been There Before” have some good imagery. That lyrical depth really brings more appreciation to the song. I love the saxophone on this, too. As if I needed more to like about it, the harmonica returns. Some violin adds a different edge yet. The guitar on “Eyes Closed” provides some more of that jazz element, and the sax reinforces it. The female vocals add quite a bit to the cut, but the lead vocals are a bit too understated. What I can hear of the lyrics seem pretty superficial, too.
Featuring Qung Zav, “Young Vibes” comes next. Do you remember that old Sesame Street thing, “one of these things is not like the others?” This is it. It is basically a reggae song. Not only does it not really fit, it doesn’t really work that well for me. The sexual rap is definitely a turn off. That kind of macho posturing and bragging is sexist and juvenile.
On the one hand, the jazzy sort of treatment on the mellower sections of “Neptune” is great. When it gives way to screaming, it seems like the worst of punk rock to me. It just doesn’t work. The majority of the song manages to avoid that, though. “Shadows” is one of the most complex and diverse songs here. The opening section has a real folk rock style. That carries it through much of the duration. They bring some fury with the hard rocking sounds later, too. It’s one of the highlights of the album, really.
The closing piece, appropriately titled “Outro” seems like a gentle ride at the end to allow you to pull yourself together. It’s fairly brief. It’s also an instrumental and the sax drifting over the smooth mid-tempo groove is especially soothing. I think it does a good job of grounding the set, really.
Personally, I think there were a couple missteps here. The screaming segment of “Neptune” is one of those. The puerile rap on “Young Vibes” is the other. Leaving those two songs out of the mix, I would have given this a higher rating, perhaps a nine. If with them included, though, it’s still a good set. Besides, it’s only sections of those numbers that are the issue, not the whole thing. With more attention to lyrics that speak to the listener, this act could produce some really great stuff. They have the talent, it just needs to rise and mature a bit like a good bread dough.
Review by Mary Angela Tobin