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Lee Underwood - California Sigh [2LP]

Drag City

  • £33.12

Format: 2LP
Catalogue No.: DC892
Barcode: 0781484089216
Release Date: 28 Jun 2024
Genre: Post Rock/Experimental

 Drag City are excited to present the first ever vinyl pressing of guitarist Lee Underwood’s undersung 1988 acoustic guitar opus, ‘California Sigh’.
 Lee Underwood had been Tim Buckley’s stalwart, inspiring, accompanying and being inspired by Buckley as they both navigated a heady set of changes in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Then, he abruptly stopped working as a professional musician, leaving behind a body of work that, as noted by Eugene Chadbourne, was the work of “a loner, who didn’t quite march under any one flag... whose improvisations involved the level of sophisticated harmonic development one finds in jazz… floating as freely as Ornette Coleman.”
 If, like Drag City, you ever wondered, “whatever became of that trippy picker from those Buckley records?” then you too missed ‘California Sigh’ when it first appeared in 1988. Then again, it was easy to miss a cassette-only private press release in the late 1980s - and highly likely that Lee’s acoustic guitar-based instrumentals were filed without proper distinction among the avalanche of New Age cassettes in that era.
 So, 35 years later, yet still in time, train your ears on the meditations of ‘California Sigh’. As Byron Coley’s liner notes observe: “The music is guitar-based acoustic instrumental melodicism with a lovely tone and alternately ruminative and jazzy structuring. The playing is generally in the vein of William Ackerman and Alex de Grassi rather than progenitors like Basho and Fahey, although ‘Lady of the Streams’ does display a bit of a Fahey lilt at times. Throughout these pieces there are also flashes of single string runs straight out of the Django Reinhart playbook. But the overall mood is tranquil - reflecting the musical joys Underwood found when surrounded by nature.”
 The tenor of the production is transcendent to be sure. It had been years since Lee had moved from LA to Northern California, years since he traded the work of writing and recording songs for an editorial position at Down Beat. With his guitar leading the way again, an expansive mood is evident throughout California Sigh. Additionally, Lee had new love in his life - the partnership of Sonia Crespi, whose warmth and inspiration shines through all the material. The playing of Chas Smith and Kevin Braheny Fortune, on pedal steel and soprano sax respectively, lend additional colours to Lee’s music on several songs, but it is largely the soulful depth of Lee’s guitar figures, limned by Steve Roach’s synthesizers and the Roach / Underwood co-production, that give dynamic shape and elevation to Lee’s lovely cycle of songs. And now, with this remastered vinyl edition, the air around the instruments - both real and implied - and the full sonic impact of ‘California Sigh’ - alternately gentle and mighty, like the natural world that inspired it - is magnified incomparably.
 In the years following the release of ‘California Sigh’, Lee wrote and recorded two solo piano CDs, ‘Phantom Light’ and ‘Gathering Light’. Additionally, he wrote ‘Blue Melody: Tim Buckley Remembered’, a memoir of their time together, as well as three books of poems, ‘Timewinds’ (2010), ‘Diamondfire’ (2016) and ‘Into Light’ (Poetic Matrix Press, 2021). He continues to live in Northern California.
 California Sigh is “dedicated with love and respect” by Lee to his late wife, Sonia Crespi, for the friendship and inspiration she brought.

Gentle Rain
Portals of the Heart
California Sigh
Lady of the Streams 
Venice, '68
Quietude Oasis
Little Desert Cat Feet
The Other Side of Sunny
Midnight Blue
Aspen Trails

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