LITTLE BIG MEN (Remastered)
Geoff Atchison & the Souldiggers
Jupiter 2 Records
Yes, it is true that the album in question here is a reissued remastered edition of the original 2005 release complete with the value-added element of four rare bonus tracks. As to the question of why an artist would want an album nearly eight years old to be the calling card for his current U.S. tour, consider multiple viable responses: (1) the Australian native Atchison, one of the finest blues guitarists around (hailed for his taste and touch by no less an authority than Jorma Kaukonen, who has enlisted Atchison as an instructor at his Fur Peace Ranch in Ohio, going on 15 years now, in fact), didn’t have an opportunity to tour widely behind the 2005 release, which (2) was practically unavailable in the U.S. anyway, so limited was its release. (3) Atchison and his solid band the Souldiggers are, as mentioned earlier, in the midst of a new U.S. tour, although he is also performing a number of solo acoustic shows along the way, along with some other dates teaming him with his buddy Randall Bramblett, with whom Atchison teamed up in 2010 for a scorching live album, Jammin’ in the Attic, recorded at Eddie’s Attic, a club of note in Decatur, GA, not far from where Atchison was living at the time, in Atlanta. And (4), several of the songs on Little Big Men are topical numbers addressing social ills that, alas, persist to this day. In short, for U.S. listeners, Little Big Men is for all intents and purposes a new album and, moreover, a new album with something to say, along with it being a chance for Geoff Atchison to be recognized for the triple-threat artist he is—songwriter, singer, guitarist.
You might think you’ve wandered into a ‘70s smooth grooves funk album upon hearing the bass-heavy, burbling opening flourish of the album opening tune, “Crazy Horse.” Nearly six minutes long, the song describes Atchison’s dream of a Native American warrior about to go into battle against “the bluecoats…them murdering liars,” and a U.S. Cavalry soldier “hunting for the savage enemy” even as he ponders the last silver dollar in his pocket. As the conflict nears, both men’s thoughts turn to their loved ones back home. An eagle soaring “high above on my eagle wings symbolically represents the outcome” and “a blood soaked coin/an eagle feather in a dead man’s hair.” Like much of Little Big Men, the music here has a steady, pulsating drive, punctuated by Atchison’s tasty, piercing fills, but its power is in its restraint—Atchison is not out to bludgeon his listeners but to get them to listen with keener ears to the larger message he’s trying to convey—can you listen to “Crazy Horse” and not think about the awful toll of wars?–and maybe, one day, to get it. Like “Crazy Horse,” “Rule the World” rolls out in a cool, sensual groove in his throaty, Clapton-esque vocal Atchison, noting the disdain the one percenters heap on the less fortunate, wonders why “wise men don’t wanna rule the world,” a phrase that in and of itself suggests the mounting problem of men and women of good conscience and noble ideals disdaining public service out of fear of its bloodsport nature these days. The laid-back swing of “News” propels a lyric expressing Atchison’s frustrations with people who “know the truth instinctively” rather than gleaning it from solid reporting—in a way, this song from 2004 anticipates the kind of media fiasco we saw in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, when measured, factual reporting took a back seat to instant, context-free judgments rendered via Twitter. “Fake Identity,” even older song, copyrighted in 1997, clearly foresaw the present day when a person can hide behind an assumed personality (“I’m greetin’ ya/whoever you think you are”) and has a nice Latin-tinged groove in its dynamically rich arrangement. “Never Give It Up,” on the other hand, is a steadily percolating ode with an Allmans feel to holding fast to a dream no matter the skeptics’ barbs. A sputtering bass line courtesy Roger McLachlan and Mal Logan’s frisky keyboard fills fuel “Zombify,” Atchison’s howl attacking the despoliation of our souls and environment by rampant “consumeration” that leaves “junk in the jungle/poison in the sea.”
Geoff Atchison and the Souldiggers, ‘Crazy Horse,’ a live performance of the lead song from Little Big Men
Geoff Atchison in a solo acoustic performance (not included on Little Big Men), ‘Kissing Angels.’ He’s playing a Lichty Handmade Acoustic Guitar (Cocobolo Alchemist model) built by North Carolina luthier Jay Lichty
Of the four bonus tracks, three were issued on Atchison’s well-received 2002 album, Chasing My Tail, including the soulful, hard hitting title track, which seems to be an autobiographical account of a hardscrabble upbringing and learning life lessons the hard way, fueled by the artist’s gritty, emotional vocal and an intense, swirling, keyboard-rich arrangement. Slow boiling and horn-driven, with some cool interplay between Atchison’s aggrieved guitar and a funky, carefree piano about halfway through, the rousing “Kerry Lou” finds the artist telling of his obsessive love for a woman who won’t give him the time of day—the guy is so bereft he joins the French Foreign Legion trying to forget her and “they flunked me too.” Truly a sad, sad story, this. Coming straight outta the Stax/Volt camp, “Chance” is a pumping, edgy kissoff blues, rich in horns and hurt, with Atchison explaining in decidedly conflicted tones how the gal has blown it—“your chance is gone” he repeats thrice in the choruses—and he’s “walking away now,” but in the last verse he seems to be weakening—we await the sequel. The other new track here, “Reach for the Sky,” is a surging instrumental spotlighting a dynamic Atchison guitar solo and a thick mix of percussion, bass and keyboards, sounding at times not unlike the jazz-influenced rock jams coming out of San Francisco in the ‘60s.
Lots to hang your hat on here. No matter the topical songs’ distant origins, all seem ever more relevant now. The band is tight and inspired, the leader is on his game, and this album has muscle.