posted May 15th, 2024

Lee Underwood’s syncretic blend of jazz, folk, and blues was a tremendous force behind Tim Buckley’s genre-stretching late 60s/early 70s music — but his 1988 acoustic guitar opus, California Sigh, has remained a unsung footnote to his story. Until now! On June 28, Drag City is excited to present California Sigh, fully remastered for vinyl and digital platforms. With today’s announcement is the title track, “California Sigh”.

Lee Underwood is usually mentioned first as Tim Buckley’s stalwart and lead guitarist — inspiring, accompanying and being inspired by Buckley through the late 60s and early 70s — as well as the author of Blue Melody: Tim Buckley Remembered. If, like us, you ever wondered what became of that trippy picker from those Buckley records, then you too missed California Sigh when it first appeared in 1988: a self-released meditative cassette and a tranquil acoustic journey that was almost too ahead of its time. In the late 80s, Lee found himself increasingly interested in the psycho-spiritual, reading the works of Osho and Alan Watts and listening to New Age greats like Paul Winter, Steve Roach, and Brian Eno. California Sigh reflects these curiosities, along with the musical joys Underwood found surrounded in nature with the love of his life, Sonia Crespi. The two took frequent trips to the Southern Colorado mountains, enveloped in a soundscape of trickling streams, coyotes howling in the night, and the silence of stars — inspiring the serene pool of field recordings sprawling across California Sigh.

The lead single and title track, “California Sigh”, blows straight from those Southern Rockies. Strumming a cleansing spiritual path though a swirling gust of wind, Lee deploys crystalline figuration in a synth-swept landscape, ebbing and flowing with bold flourishes and picked harmonics as the song stirs. “California Sigh” reveals Lee’s free-floating acoustic moods, with synths from ambient avatar Steve Roach, as a soulful work of tranquility and transcendence.

California Sigh was co-produced by Lee Underwood and the aforementioned Steve Roach, a trailblazer in the New Age realm. The playing of Chas Smith and Kevin Braheny Fortune, on pedal steel and soprano sax respectively, lend additional colors to Lee’s music on several songs, but it is largely the soulful depth of Lee’s guitar figures, limned by Steve’s synthesizers, that elevate Lee’s lovely cycle of songs. California Sigh is “dedicated with love and respect” by Lee to his late wife, Sonia, whose warmth and inspiration shines through all the material.

Now, 35 years later, the air around the instruments and the full sonic impact of California Sigh — alternately gentle and mighty, like the natural world that inspired it — is magnified incomparably. Train your ears on the meditations of California Sigh come June 28, 2024

Artists in this story: Lee Underwood