Deep draughts of liquid life – with love from East Oregon and Margo Cilker.
Release Date: 5th November 2021
Label: Loose Music
Formats: CD, Vinyl, Download
As her press release says, “Margo Cilker is a woman who drinks deeply of life.” Well – those deep draughts are there aplenty on her debut album, Pohorylle. Margo Cilker is a free spirit. A native of Enterprise, east Oregon, she’s spent the past seven years performing and travelling, and those travels – across the USA and as far as the Basque Region of Spain – have informed the sentiments and the subject matter of Pohorylle, which take in her impressions of the natural beauties she has experienced, as well as the sleaze and lonely frustrations of the dive bar circuits that have been host to her sporadic performances.
It’s hard to understand why Margo has left it so long before letting the world know who she is and what she’s capable of… She’s a singer and a songwriter of rare ability; her crystal clear voice occupies the middle ground between the grit of Lucinda Williams and the downhome reassurance of Dolly Parton, her melodicism is peerless and her lyrics get straight to the point in way that so few are able to manage.
For Pohorylle (the album’s name, incidentally, is presumably a tribute to Gerta Pohorylle, the German/Jewish war photographer who covered the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, and was the first female journalist to be killed at the frontline of a conflict) Margo has assembled a top-notch band. That band – Jenny Conlee on keyboards, Jason Kardong on pedal steel, Rebecca Young on bass, Mirabai Peart on strings, Kelly Pratt on horns and the album’s engineer John Morgan Askew on anything else, complement the songs perfectly and their accompaniment switches effortlessly between discrete and raucous as the mood requires.
Pohorylle is already drawing a legion of admirers. Both Mojo Magazine and Uncut have been unstinting in their praise; Mojo went so far as to compare Margo to “…Gillian Welch at The Band’s sessions with Alain Toussaint.” Praise indeed!
The album kicks off with That River, a song that’s beginning to attract attention in its own right. Over a simple guitar backing, laced with piano fills and some tasty fiddle touches, Margo gives us an early demonstration of what all the fuss is about – and why so many commentators have made the Lucinda Williams comparison. In the folky Kevin Johnson, Margo shows her sleazy side, to a background of fine honky-tonk piano and some great bar-room fiddling before the pace slows a little for the evocative Broken Arm in Oregon, a song that describes a journey over the mountains to California. The pattering drum beat echoes the steps of the traveller’s horse and Margo’s vocal, which, at the start of the song, oozes comfort and confidence, gets more and more pleading and impassioned as the song, and the story, progress.
The ghost of Lucinda returns for Flood Plain, an excellent song that is given real atmosphere by Jason’s wonderful pedal steel and some lovely quivering violin touches from Mirabai. Tehachapi is another great song – this time a raucous foot-stomper that even pulls in a Dixieland band to provide a counterpoint to the boozy piano and the thudding bass.
We’re taken on a bit of a detour, both in terms of time signature and subject matter with the broody Barbed Wire (Belly Crawl) and, once again, Jason excels on pedal steel, as he provides the atmospheric backing effects and plays some sublime solos, before Margo contemplates the reality of loneliness as the waltz-time Chester’s slows things right down.
The lively Brother, Taxman, Preacher is perhaps, my favourite song on the album. There’s some wonderful interaction between Margo’s acoustic guitar and the rest of the band, but the song’s ace card is its lyrical content, packed with cynical swipes at those who try to direct the course of other people’s lives. I was particularly enamored by the line: “I wish I was a preacher – I could tell you who to love; I could tell you who to vote for, who to pity and who to f*ck.” Wonderful stuff!
Pohorylle winds up with the wistful Wine In The World a song in which (as Margo’s press release so adequately summarises) Margo “touches, for a brief moment upon the vast dichotomies of her selfhood and her profession.” Margo ponders the nature of the world as she sees it and questions why it should be as it is, and the song’s refrain, initially “I wish I had all the wine in the world” morphs subtly into “I wish I had all the TIME in the world” – a sentiment to which we can all relate.
I so pleased that I’ve discovered Margo Cilker. Give Pohorylle a listen, and you can discover this remarkable talent for yourself.
Watch the Official video to That River, the album’s opening track, here: