There's truth in the phrase "The best luck befalls the hardest workers." Country rockers The Kentucky Struts embody this notion. For all their toil, a great deal of their ongoing good fortune has come down to meeting the right folks at the right time. Meeting each other was, of course, a good start.
Singer/songwriter Todd Lipscomb has been making waves in the Roots scene for years, as a solo act, then fronting the groovier T-Lips & Combs, whose lineup was as diverse as its style. Childhood friends Brian Teismann (guitar) and Adam Pleiman (guitar/keyboards/pedal steel) were anchors, along with bassist Brian Mahan, whose brother Greg met Lipscomb through open mic performances and introduced them.
This core began tracking songs in 2002 with Toby Ellis, at which time the band evolved into a cohesive Americana act. Lipscomb's harmonica and trademark delivery stayed, but the band took a turn toward a more Country sound, akin to what the Heartbreakers might sound like if Tom Petty made no attempt to temper the twang.
"We're starting to learn how to make the stage rumble," Lipscomb says of their rockier moves of late. "That's the direction we're going, and it's exciting."
Last year, as the newly-christened Kentucky Struts were essentially wrapping production on their debut full-length, Pleiman got a job as a Pro Tools assistant with well-known producer (and recent Northern Kentucky transplant) Erwin Musper. Pleiman had hoped to get a good deal on mastering from his new boss, but got much more.
"He listened to the album and loved it," recalls Pleiman, "I said, 'Great, what are the rates?' " Musper countered with an offer to produce the band as part of his new venture, Yea Yea Yeah Productions. The Struts were more than willing to accept a delay in releasing their CD for this opportunity.
"As a band, we're three times better than we were when we started," says Mahan, "so Erwin helped us play catch up, re-tracking guitars and vocals as necessary."
The songs on their self-titled debut range from the simple acoustic beauty of "Wisdom of the Wise" to the meticulously arranged "For Kisses." Book-ending the Struts' style, both are gems in their own right, and sound fine playing back-to-back. In fact, the continuity of the disc is superb.
Engaging songwriting is also a source of consistency. Most of Lipscomb's subjects hold no mystery, but the life he breathes into them with understated wordplay and raucous vocalizing makes you feel like you're sitting next to him on his porch in Cold Springs as he writes them.
Another stroke of luck came following the departure of drummer Derrick David. While a solid player, his exit opened the door to working with two of Cincinnati's finest, The Ass Ponys' Dave Morrison and former Over The Rhine drummer/current Medic skinsman Brian Kelly. Kelly's textural work behind the kit would provide the catalyst for the band to finally Rock their Folk foundation, but Morrison's greatest contribution would be behind a camera.
As part of the production deal, Musper wanted the band to include a DVD to put faces with the music. Enter Morrison, who has been working in video production for years. The result is an impressive documentary and video for the song "See Ya' Through." Like the Struts, the videos are completely unpretentious but professional. The extra disc also offers the album tracks in DTS and Dolby Digital formats.
With the release of this package, the Struts can confidently take their next step. Lipscomb concedes that while local shows are fun, they'll have to perform regionally to get the word out. "Original music is basically underground here. This city is built around P&G and the Reds and Bengals. People go out to hear their favorite songs and drink a shit-ton of beer, and we don't play 'Brown-Eyed Girl.' "
THE KENTUCKY STRUTS (kystruts.com) host a CD release party Saturday at the Southgate House.