Random acts

Of note

In synch with stardom: This fall, ET’s Bar and Grill in Arden will host a local karaoke competition from which winners will travel to regionals and (if their skills impress) on to the national competition.

Then it’s overseas to the Karaoke World Championship in Finland.

Yes, Finland.

Those interested should attend the 8 p.m. preliminary rounds at ET’s on the following Saturdays: Oct. 4 and Oct. 18, and Nov. 1 and Nov. 15 (a registration fee applies). For details, call 687-7530.

Prison-release program: Asheville’s own County Farm was recently invited to Nashville to record for Bluegrass Breakdown, an NPR-hosted bluegrass radio show. The first of the 20-minute segments, which include music and interviews, will air on NPR on Saturday, Nov. 1 at 8 p.m.(though the closest local station to run the broadcast will be WETS 91.5 FM out of Johnson City, Tenn.). For more info, see www.wpln.org/bluegrass.Charm to spare: Odd-rock locals Piedmont Charisma have a new song on a just-released compilation album from Durham label Pox World Empire. For more info, see www.poxworldempire.com.

In step with Strut

First things first: Strut is not Strutter.

Even if amiable Strut bassist/front man Elijah Cramer were slathered in grease paint and made to spit blood, he would never be mistaken for hard-rock tongue-jockey Gene Simmons.

“We talked about dressing up like KISS for Halloween,” Cramer tells me, though clarifying that folks don’t usually confuse the two bands.

Strut is a hip-hopped funk outfit from the country, emerging from the Farm, a rural intentional community located an hour south of Nashville, Tenn. Its other members include Elijah’s brother, Casey (guitar), Biko Casini (percussion, vocals), Agent Ishi (vocals) and Patrick Thomas (drums).

“We’ve known each other since we were 5 or less,” Cramer confirms. “[We] started playing at about 14 or 15. Strut formed a little later on.”

And then in 1999, the band picked up and moved to Asheville.

Now, frankly, this reviewer is typically none too fond of funk or hip-hop of the mountain-grown variety. And so I was surprised to find that About Time, Strut’s first professionally produced release was quite appealing (there’s also a demo out there: “We made, like, 400 copies, sold them, and don’t want to ever hear it again,” Cramer says).

The trio’s many years together have allowed members to merge into an intuitive, super-tight machine wherein no one sound dominates. (Though Cramer does the booking and managing, and handles most of the lead vocals, he makes it clear that “we all kind of lead.”)

Cramer’s fluid, friendly rapping exudes a mountain mellowness not too distant from that of Speech, lead vocalist of Arrested Development, another charming hip-hop group that sprouted from dirt rather than asphalt.

And, happily, Strut also manages to convey the feeling that the listener is their first priority.

“Growing up,” Cramer admits, “we would play for a couple-hundred people and we were horrible; but they would still dance, so it kind of helped form the sound, rather than the other way around.”

However — miracle of miracles — this orientation hasn’t made Strut a bunch of self-indulgent, endlessly soloing freaks.

“When we were first starting out, the jam-band scene was blowing up and we didn’t want to just get grouped as a jam band,” Cramer reveals. Strut, he adds, exists “to make sure everybody’s happy, rather than [to] do exactly what we want to do.”

God bless them.

And, in case the axe men of Strut find themselves tempted to wander down the Phish path, they have some insurance against such indulgence.

“Our drummer, he doesn’t like 20-minute jams,” assures Cramer.

As a former pseudo rude boy, I was excited by Strut’s tendency to pepper their funk set with ska numbers. Maybe I’ve been out of the loop, but since Chapel Hill’s rock-steady Jumpstarts broke up — add to that a single, ill-attended appearance by The Toasters at the now-defunct Asheville Music Zone — Asheville’s off-beats have been dragged down into ganja-infused sloth.

So even if the Strut guys are making skanking songs that sound more Florida than Kingston or London, it gives me hope that that skinny tie might one day find its way back out of my closet.

Strut’s About Time is available locally at 26 Records. The band plays the Harmonic Convergence Festival in Mills River on Friday, Sept. 26 (Chiz’chen Itza Stage, 2:30-4:30 a.m.).

Nick Holt will be writing Random Acts through the Oct. 29 issue of Xpress. Contact him at calendar@mountainx.com, with Attn: Nick Holt in the subject line.

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