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One to Watch: Margo Cilker

[The Guardian]

The American singer-songwriter’s expertly honed country-rock is as frank and fresh as it is warm and familiar

Margo Cilker.
Instant classics… Margo Cilker. Photograph: Jen Borst

Emily Mackay

California-born, Oregon-based Margo Cilker has honed her story-songs on the road for years, travelling across the US and the Basque country of Spain, where she formed a covers band playing the likes of Creedence, Dylan and Neil Young. “You need to challenge what you’re afraid of,” she’s said, “and I’m scared of a 9-5”.

That training, along with her love of Woody Guthrie, (“a true compadre”), Gillian Welch and Lucinda Williams, tells on her debut album, Pohorylle, out last week: the classic construction of the likes of the ambling Kevin Johnson, with its rinky-dink piano, or the grandly weary Chester’s, a not-drinking song in which she observes the cautionary tales at the bar, feels instantly familiar.

Yet there’s a restless wanderlust there too: Pohorylle, which follows a couple of EPs and a mini-album of covers, explores connections between Basque culture and Cilker’s native west coast through wistful expanses such as That River and honkytonk thigh-slappers like Tehachapi, driven by a band featuring former collaborators of the Decemberists, Son Volt, Joanna Newsom and Beirut, with Cilker’s sister Sarah on harmonies. It’s the sort of record that becomes an instant close companion; as frank and fresh as it is warm and companionable: “I could tell you who to vote for, who to pity and who to fuck,” she asserts on the sardonic Brother, Taxman, Preacher. Frankly, she can tell us whatever she likes; we’re happy to come along for the ride.