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More to offer, less to prove

Improving with age, Geoff Achison still kicks out the jams



Maturity. For a contemporary musician, it can be a dirty word. Does it mean that the musician is reaching new heights or has just gone over the hill?

In the case of Australian blues guitarist Geoff Achison, maturity aptly describes his evolution.

Achison is a guitar player's guitar player. On such recordings as his Live at St. Andrews (2000), he blends the fire of Stevie Ray Vaughan with tasteful extended jazz chords. He's a fine acoustic player, too, and as such is an annual guest instructor at Jorma Kaukonen's Fur Peace Ranch in Ohio.

However, listen to Achison's latest CD, Chasing My Tail, and hear an artist, not just a guitar player, at work. In fact, it's hard to believe that a guitar player is at the helm. The record features tight, horn-drenched band arrangements and laid-back acoustic grooves. There's even a convincing orchestrated (that is, with strings) version of the Allman Brothers' classic "Whippin' Post."

"The focus, really, was on the songs and the arrangements rather than just making the songs a life-support system for guitar solos, which they can tend to be sometimes," Achison says.

The new CD benefited, ironically, from Achison's hectic touring schedule, which keeps him busy in three different countries (the States, Britain and Down Under). In the midst of it all, last year he squeezed in the sessions for Chasing My Tail, cobbling together disparate ideas and performance settings into a diverse, appealing recording.

"This is a collection of songs that had been floating around with different projects of mine," Achison says. "These songs were written in hotel rooms and thrown together with a band on the odd occasion that we had a rehearsal. Hopefully, it works in its favor, but it wasn't an album that was written from start to finish [in one period of time]."

His well-considered recording notwithstanding, Achison clearly has not hung up his guitar-slingin' rock 'n' roll jam shoes.

"Our live gigs tend to take off in all sorts of different directions," Achison explains. "When we do gigs, I've never subscribed to the idea of trying to do reproductions of our CDs. In fact, the recording process is just us trying to make a condensed version of what we do live."

Because it's not always feasible to tour with a horn or string section, Achison typically has a different band in each continent. He met his current Atlanta-based band on the night of their first gig together. "We shook hands and introduced ourselves while we were setting up to play," he says. This sort of performance situation leads to less complex live arrangements, Achison notes, and more space for jamming.

"I tell [audiences] right off the bat, 'I'm not sure how the songs are going to sound tonight. We're just going to count them in and see where they go,'" Achison says. "It makes the songs kind of a journey in themselves. It's more fun that way, and I think the audience enjoys it as well. Sometimes they can see that we've just about created a train wreck, but we save it in the nick of time. It's like a roller coaster ride."

Achison's musical maturity -- fueled in part by marriage and a 15-month-old son -- makes the jam aesthetic an increasingly comfortable one for him. "Even though I like to jam, I think some of my testosterone has dissolved," he says with a laugh. "I take my time more at gigs. I don't feel the need to play big solos all the time. I don't feel I've got as much to prove, and I'm glad about that."

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