Pohorylle (Fluff And Gravy/Spunk)
The people in Margo Cilker’s songs often find they are asked, or they ask themselves, variations of two questions posed in her debut’s opening song, That River: Were you staying in your own lane? Were you passing on a steep grade?
There are vices chased reluctantly because “I’ve seen the drunks in a line at Chester’s/I can’t let myself get lonely no more”, and runs promising “I’m going farther this time”, where your cynicism that nothing will change is balanced by the clarity that the misbegotten hope might be the only light “if you know what it was like to have both hands tied”.
There’s an uncertain home where “you … had your boots on in the house/They were dropping little dirt clods/You were dropping little doubts”, and a dream of living with certainty so “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”.
Always there’s a restlessness to the characters, a knowing that things don’t always fit, and believing (as she sings in That River) that “fortune favours the bold and the far away from home”. Even if that is no more true than any lie about the road, the way out, the escape, when it’s possible they don’t ever move. Especially if they don’t ever move.
In Broken Arm In Oregon there’s an almost throwaway verse, a picture that is painted that works because of, and startles by, its casualness. It’s not explained, it’s not explored further, but you know the route out is the key while the trouble remains at the core.
“Heard a woman go on record/Sayin’ there’s one night that wrecked her/When a young man closed his hand across her mouth/Now every room she sleeps in/She’s gotta map out her escape plan/Imagine all those hours devoted to bigger things.”
If you haven’t already guessed, Cilker writes roots/country/folk/Americana - choose your term, it all works - songs. Songs that feel as worked and as casual as the men and women who populate them. Sometimes slow or slowing, though never ponderous, retaining an urge sometimes to kick up some dust on the dancefloor, these songs have the sweat of familiarity and the shape of a pair of jeans that long ago moulded to you.
Drums and pedal steel are pulled along in Wine Of The World, the organ holding the centre like the stoic heartbeat; but in Flood Plain they hover on the edge. In the Band-like jauntiness of Tehachapi, tuba parps against rolling whiskey bar piano, before trombone and trumpet dip you into a password-at-the-door 1920s joint; but in Barbed Wire (Belly Crawl) the drum and guitar are front and centering a cleaner, not quite dispassionate but leaning-to-impersonal modern bar.
Unlike its characters, for a debut, Pohorylle has a surprising amount of certainty, or at least surefootedness. The arrangement and production decisions work, the song structures hold up, and through it all wends an appealing voice that doesn’t have an age or an attitude but the flexibility to pitch wherever it’s appropriate.
Impressive, and justifying the decision by local label, Spunk, to pick up on its 2021 release in the USA and spread the word.