Margo Cilker
Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Oregonian Margo Cilker Offers a Gem with ‘Pohorylle’

Margo Cilker’s debut album Pohorylle is brilliant. Every one of the nine songs sparkles with wit, emotional depth, and a winsome sense of humor.

Margo Cilker
Fluff & Gravy
5 November 2022

Oregon singer-songwriter Margo Cilker’s debut album Pohorylle is a gem! Every one of the nine songs on the release sparkles with wit, emotional depth, and a winsome sense of humor. Cilker can be blunt or coy. Even when dealing with serious topics, she understands the cosmic absurdity of living in a dangerous world where the hazards lie inherent in the beauty of nature, and love can leave one (literally) with a broken arm as well as a broken heart.

Consider the opening line to the first track of Pohoryille, “That River”. Without explaining who’s telling the story, the protagonist immediately observes, “That river in the winter / It could fuck me up.” This isn’t Joni Mitchell‘s stream one could skate away on as her love affair dissolves. If she’s not careful, this river could do the runaway protagonist serious bodily harm. The song concerns a woman absconding from a relationship. She’s heard that “fortune favors the bold and the far from home”. The character is willing to take risks. The dangers are real. Cilker’s forebodings do not predict a positive or negative result as much as they portray a cliffhanger world where either one may happen.

While it is unclear whether Cilker deliberately alludes to Mitchell’s frozen river, it seems likely as the Oregonian slyly references other classic songs on different tracks, especially “Tehachapi” with clear winks and nods to Little Feat’s “Willin'” and “Flood Plain” whose plaintive acoustic guitar lines suggests Bob Dylan and the Band‘s version of “I Shall Be Released”. On other cuts, such as “Kevin Johnson”, Cilker purposely keeps the details generic as the song consciously evokes traditional Appalachian folk music to skewer its championing of the common person. Although she hails from the Sunset state, Cilker sounds like a Southerner with an affected twang in her voice. The song’s simple martial melody and non-specific particulars reveal how biases are passed on and its depressing consequences for all, including the title character. He ends up crying like everybody else without ever understanding why.

Seattle’s Sera Cahoone produced the record. She recruited a first-rate Northwestern indie rock/freak folk band to accompany Cilker that includes Jenny Conlee (The Decemberists) on keyboards, Jason Kardong (Son Volt) on pedal steel, Rebecca Young (Jesse Sykes) on bass, Mirabai Peart (Joanna Newsom) on strings, Kelly Pratt (Beirut) on horns, and the album’s engineer John Morgan Askew (Neko Case, Laura Gibson) on various other instruments. Cilker’s sister Sarah also provides vocal harmonies, which adds to the record’s country vibe, especially on such songs as “Chester’s” and Barbed Wire (Belly Crawl)”.

It’s unclear to what the album’s title, Pohorylle, refers. The mystery is further enhanced by the cover art of a woman alone at the beach on a cloudy and foggy day. The lone female struggling to find her place in a murky world is a common theme that runs through many of the songs, most specifically on “Brother, Taxman, Preacher”, which highlights the sexism in contemporary society. If the singer were only male, she would have many more options in life. Cilker humorously addresses the topic, but her criticisms are pointed and right on the mark. She croons, “And I wish I was a preacher / I could tell you who to love / I could tell you who to vote for / Who to pity, who to fuck / I wish I was a preacher / I’d know what it means to know everything.”

Cilker may be just a woman, she sings, but she knows enough to understand that limits her role in the larger world. Several other songs offer specific examples of women who have been held back or worse because of their gender. Maybe Pohorylle is the location where everyone can be themselves.    

RATING 8 / 10