VALLEY OF HEART’S DELIGHT
Review by Adrian Delso
Margo Cilker’s second album, released this September 15, builds on her breakout hit, “Pohorylle”. The success of this album opened the way to tours opening for such luminaries as Drive-By Truckers, Hayes Carll and American Aquarium in 2022. She even appeared at the Old Blue Last in London’s Great Eastern Street, last September, to rave reviews.
What then to make of this eleven-track album, out on Loose Music in the UK? Cilker’s unifying theme is ‘how we live on and off nature, how we live with and without family and why we return to the places we were born’. These themes emerge intermittently from a collection of pleasant country songs, drawing influences from the last half-century.
The opener, “Lowland Trail”, is a conventional country arrangement, with a rather pedestrian electric guitar part and an unadorned, tentative vocal, singing lyrics about finding an easy way around problems.
“Keep It On A Burner” opens with a nice ‘brass band’, gospel feel and is basically about not finishing anything. The musicianship is, however, stellar.
“I Remember Carolina” kicks off with a pacy honky tonk piano and maintains a country-rock feel with pedal steel, mandolin, fiddle and a confident vocal. The lyrics are engaging with a tune strongly reminiscent of “Midnight Special”.
“Beggar For Your Love” is a powerful heartbreak song, powerfully delivered. An opening acoustic guitar (Margo herself) is overtaken and built on with piano, bass, drums, organ, accordion and picked banjo, á la The Crane Wives.
“Mother Told Her, Mother Told Me” sounds like early Eagles, as it kicks off and features a strongly-sung humorous lyric about family gossip, with an interesting acoustic guitar finale.
“With The Middle” opens with strummed acoustic, leading into a solemn drum beat and an emotional vocal about a woman trapped in domesticity, with little purpose in her day (“the middle”) outside of her morning and evening routines – “the coffee and the wine”. Strongly underpinned by pedal steel, piano and organ.
“Santa Rosa” also kicks off with strummed acoustic and is picked up by organ, piano and harmonica. It paints a loving picture of café life in a West Texas town.
“Crazy Or Died” is a thoughtful reflection on those who have gone before – one way or another. Very reminiscent of early Band cuts, with prominent pedal steel and a gospel vibe. The vocal is heart-wrenchingly honest, skirting dangerously near to off-key on occasion.
“Steelhead Trout”, written by Ben Walden, is a Bakersfield/zydeco hybrid belter, with a sparky vocal about the impact of building Silicon Valley in the Santa Clara Valley (the “Valley of Heart’s Delight” of the album title), using the example of migratory fish no longer able to return to their spawning grounds.
“Sound and Fury” is an interesting, autobiographical medium-tempo waltz, featuring mandolin, accordion and fiddle. Clever lyric and strong vocal performance.
“All Tied Together” is a piano and acoustic guitar-based slow-moving, heartfelt song with intelligent lyrics about loss. Unfortunately, the vocal is almost comical (how long can she keep singing ‘-er?) and the decision to close the album with, arguably, the weakest cut is, to my mind, incomprehensible.
To return to my original question, what can we make of this offering from the Pacific North-West native? There are some strong songs, some patchy vocal performances, and universally solid playing from the Pohorylle crew, but….
I couldn’t really get behind it. I would, however, go and see her live, in a heartbeat.