Album Review – Margo Cilker’s “Pohorylle”

photo: Matthew W Kennelly

Scrunch in and make room on your 2021 “Best Of,” “Greatest Discoveries,” “Favorite Songwriters,” “Badass Country Chicks” lists, because Margo Cilker has just arrived with this late year entry that has folks singing her praises, and will have you crowing right along to her excellent songs. You’ve never heard of her before, but you have now and so there’s no more excuses. Get to spinning it and thank me later.

You’ve just got to love country and roots artists from Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. I don’t want to say there’s an innocence to them, because that could be misconstrued as patronizing. But there certainly is a lack of pretentiousness to the music, and a pleasing simplicity that is refreshing and endearing.

Whether it’s the multi-millionaires making music on Music Row, or the Millennial hipsters in east Nashville posturing for each other at the American Legion Post, performers back east often have to find their tribe and try to fit into it to curry acceptance. In the extremities of the United States, they’re insulated from those concerns, and their expressions tend to come with a distinct purity and honesty.

This is definitely what Eastern Oregon’s Margo Cilker is guilty of. When you think of Oregon, you might envision hooded rioters hurling Molotov cocktails at the Federales. But Enterprise, Oregon is closer to Idaho and the Nez Perce Reservation than Portland. Isolated and rugged, it bears hearty souls, and apparently, stunning songwriters.

But Margo Cilker is just as much a daughter of the road as she is anywhere specific. “Pohorylle” is distinctly a Spanish term, where Cilker has spent time in the country’s intoxicating Basque region. Word is Cilker has spent time in a lot of places, which only makes sense because leaving is so intrinsic to her songs.

South Carolina, a dairy farm in Petaluma, California, Margo Cilker’s been out there working with her hands, carving out a hardscrabble existence in faraway and unforgiving places, accruing a lifetime’s worth of stories, and the ones she didn’t share already on a slew of cobbled together Bandcamp releases comprise this cover to cover debut gem from Fluff and Gravy Records.

Produced by another Pacific Northwest jewel in drummer and singer/songwriter Sera Cahoone, Pohorylle is full of songs that only come from seeing it and living it. “The textures we live for, the vices we chase. They’re all out on the flood plain that the tears inundate.” Holy shit what a line Cilker delivers in the song “Flood Plain,” and there’s a bunch more where that came from.

Crushing your poor little soul in one song after another, emulating the sounds of a distressed heart, Margo Cilker still somehow also makes it all sound so sweet. She also has penned a signature song, which is necessary for any songwriter to find some traction. Her Little Feat-inspired “Tehachapi” about the interior California waypost helps put what’s unique and delightful about Margo Cilker’s musical perspective in context.

Heartbreaking but enduring, sparse but abundantly enjoyable, Pohorylle is a songwriter record that’s country enough, with the attention centered squarely on the songs and Margo’s voice, which in spurts is doubled up by the blood harmonies of her sister Sarah, and backed a hot shot band specifically assembled to make sure these songs are respected.

8.5/10

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