Sometimes a CD arrives on my desk and gets overlooked for no good reason and Margo Cilker’s debut album, Pohorylle, is one such. I got a promo copy which lists the tracks but has no other information; the cover doesn’t exactly grab the attention and the accompanying press release is pretentious and not terribly helpful. My hand hovered over it several times and moved on but finally it settled and I’m very glad it did. And so it all comes down to the music, as it always should.
Margo is a singer/songwriter from Oregon and Pohorylle is a distillation of seven years as a working musician. Her sound is country-rockish and she has a powerful voice with a sometimes laconic delivery. Listen to ‘Barbed Wire (Belly Crawl)’ and you have to imagine her leaning against the bar in some disreputable drinking-hole, cradling a glass of red-eye. If that sounds like your sort of music, you’re going to love this. It’s built on pounding piano, fiddle and pedal steel with Margo’s sister Sarah adding harmonies.
The album leaps out at you with ‘That River’ with a strident guitar intro and piano doing most of the decorating until the fiddle comes in for the big finish. If you’re looking for an opposite of Joni Mitchell’s ‘River’ this is it. ‘Kevin Johnson’ brings in organ, courtesy of Jenny Conlee, who we’ve already heard on piano, and pounding drums and is written in a very traditional style with the first two and fourth lines of each verse the same with the third line expanding on them but I’m still not sure what Margo is saying here. ‘Broken Arm In Oregon’ is a much more straightforward song about the trials of life on the road. I say “straightforward” but it is more complex than that and it may or may not be autobiographical.
‘Flood Plain’ is a simple acoustic strum but one problem keeps cropping up – I need the lyrics. Margo’s delivery maybe powerful and distinctive but it isn’t always a model of clarity. I say that but, as if to prove me wrong, the story told in ‘Tehachapi’ is clear enough and the brass decoration is superb. I still need some help, though.
I love the sound of Pohorylle and I can appreciate the quality of the song-writing and the arranging but this is an album which, for me, requires the full experience or, failing that, a period of intensive study.
Artist’s website: https://www.margocilkermusic.com/
‘That River’ – official video: