Margo Cilker – Pohorylle

Dazzling full-length debut from Oregon-based songwriter

Image: Jen Borst

Margo Cilker’s Bandcamp bio may be unorthodox, but it does appear to sum up her peripatetic outlook. “I once Google-searched the definition of ‘pine’ and the example provided was this: ‘Some people pine for the return of the monarchy,’” she writes. “I’m left to pine for other things, like Basque wine, moonlight and cowboys.” Reared in California, she’s spent the best part of the last decade on the move, variously setting up camp in places like South Carolina, Montana, the Basque Country or her current home of Enterprise, Oregon, where she lives with husband and fellow singer-songwriter, Forrest Van Tuyl.

This wanderlust forms the travelogue theme of the strikingly assured Pohorylle. Most of it deals with the conflicted nature of what Cilker does. “I’m a woman split between places/And I’m bound to lose loved ones on both sides”, she sings on the drifting, wistful “Wine In The World”. But her defining mission is perhaps best expressed on “That River”, whose protagonist leaves town just as the moon comes up, running a fever and heading into uncertainty: “Fortune favours the bold/And the faraway from home”.

Produced by Sera Cahoone, who gathers a sympathetic band (including The Decemberists’ Jenny Conlee and Joanna Newsom’s sometime violinist Mirabai Peart), Pohorylle is classic Americana – mostly carried by piano, guitar and strings – awash with grace, wisdom and allusive wordplay. Cilker only has a handful of EPs to her name, but it feels like the work of a truly seasoned talent.


The wonderful “Tehachapi”, with its swinging piano and Dixieland horn break, makes reference to Little Feat’s “Willin’”, which namechecks the titular Californian city. Inspired by Oregon poet Kim Stafford, “Barbed Wire (Belly Crawl)” is a meditation on obstacles to freedom, lent drama by a sweeping arrangement. And while “Brother, Taxman, Preacher” suggests there may be an easier way to go, Cilker instead appears determined, as outlined on “Chester”, to tip her hat to the wind and push on