Margo Cilker: Pohorylle

Unusual name, unpronounceable album, gloomy cover: we weren’t expecting much from this but it’s great, and it’s her debut, too.

She’s a working, touring musician and the album is inspired by her experiences on the road. At heart it’s rootsy Americana but she draws in other influences. Keyboards are provided by the Decemberists’ Jenny Conlee, which gives a touch of that band’s sound in places, and there’s jazz.

The opener is That River, with fiddle, piano and acoustic strumming; it refers to an old Basque hotel, and an area that is Oregonian Cilker’s home from home. The album’s title has a Spanish connection, named for a German-Jewish Spanish Civil War photographer, Gerta Pohorylle, partner of Robert Capa.

This track is followed by more honky tonk Kevin Johnson, a melodically simple tune about the life of a fictional South Carolina character, and then comes the more atmospheric Broken Arm In Oregon, about “… being down and out in Carolina”, the arm coming from “a tumble on the mountain”, though the lyric turns darker when it talks about “a woman … sayin’ there’s one night that wrecked her / When a young man closed his hand across her mouth”. Despite the ominous lyrics, there’s a nice violin section. Also good is Tecachapi, because it’s a good word, and contains lines such as “In Sonoma County / The grass is feisty” and “It’s these Little Feats / That keep me goin’“ – this song has some nice New Orleans-style brass. Barbed Wire (Belly Crawl) is more typical Americana, with twanging guitars and lyrics possibly about being unsure of what direction to go, based on a literal crossing of the barbed wire: “You step over it / I go through it / And the kid belly crawls cause they’re five”.

The album is only nine tracks so leaves you wanting more; quality control is high. The final track is the waltzy Wine in the World, echoing the barbed wire song’s impression of “a woman split between places”.

A very fine debut. More here

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