The country simplicity that imbues Hayes Carll’s songs can sometimes hide the social conscience and sharp humor that also runs through them, but if you want to find those things, they are there. In fact, Carll has spent over 20 years having a conversation about what it is we’re all doing here with anyone who will listen. He makes us laugh––but then he makes us cry. We judge a song’s protagonist, only for Carll to spin us around to commiserate with them.
“I like to tug at heartstrings, find commonality with others, reflect on my own life, and sometimes I do it in a lighthearted way,” says Carll. “A lot of musical styles found their
way onto this record, but my first and most formative influences came from country music. This is a country singer-songwriter record. It’s just unapologetically me.”
Carll is talking about You Get It All, his eighth album. His voice, rich but worn, has never sounded better. As a songwriter, he is in top form, turning droll confessions, messy
relationships, motel room respites, and an exasperated, hitchhiking God into modern nuggets.
The New York Times likened Carll’s ability to undergird humor with a weightier narrative to Bob Dylan. When Carll talks about the sounds that are in his own head, he mentions Randy Travis. That juxtaposition defines the singularity of Carll’s career: He exists in a space of his own, informed by John Prine, Tom Waits, and Dylan but also by Travis, Kenny Rogers, and Hank Williams, Jr. Those influences may have made him hard to pigeonhole, but he’s still been embraced.
Two Americana Music Awards, a Grammy nomination for Best Country Song, and multiple Austin Music Awards line his resumé́. He’s had the most-played record on
Americana radio twice. His songs appear on the screen regularly and have been recorded by Kenny Chesney, Lee Ann Womack, and Brothers Osborne, to name a few.
You Get It All was produced by Allison Moorer and guitar legend Kenny Greenberg. Carll credits his partnership with singer, songwriter, and artist Moorer, his wife, as a force that helps both clarify what he wants and challenge self-imposed limits. “She’s a world-class artist who has a way of helping me articulate my vision,” he says.
Opener “Nice Things” layers a laugh-out-loud narrative exposing humanity’s botched stewardship of Earth––and one another––over vintage country cool. In the song written with the Brothers Osborne, God comes down to check on us––and she is not impressed. “It’s social commentary, but it’s not dour,” Carll says. “I hope the song can make people sing along, laugh a bit, and maybe recognize that we can do better.”
The title track is classic Carll—a front-porch singalong with a deeper message for those who want it. Self-deprecating and sweet, the song is an ode to bringing one’s whole self to a relationship––the good and the bad. “I’m at a point in my life where that rings true to me,” says Carll. “What I want, and what I think a lot of people want, is to feel like they’re getting the real thing.”
“Help Me Remember” is a feat of storytelling that tackles an underrepresented topic in art: dementia from the perspective of the patient. “It’s a visual song. To tell this story, we had to put the listener right there,” Carll says. “I was thinking about how scary and sad it is for the person who is suffering from it, and how heartbreaking and frustrating it is for the friends and family going through it with them.”
Among Carll’s co-writers is singer-songwriter Brandy Clark, who helped him pen and perform “In the Mean Time,” a gorgeous, honky-tonk waltz which perfectly depicts the
damage couples can inflict on each other when they’re at their worst. The multidimensionality of relationships is a thread woven throughout the entire album. “When we’re our weakest or most afraid, real damage can be done to our relationships, as well as our spirits,” says Carll. “You can love somebody, everything can be as good as you
could’ve imagined, but when your traumas or fears come out, all that love can disappear in an instant.”
Rollicking through snarling 80s country guitar licks, “To Keep From Being Found” is an escape to a motel room with a TV on wheels, a bath, and line after delectable line.
Subdued album closer “If It Was Up to Me” aches through a list of wishes that seem frivolous at first but build into a portrait of pain that’s far more complicated. Written with
Moorer and Sean McConnell, it’s a gorgeous example of one of Carll’s favorite artistic devices: leading listeners to underestimate a character with whom they’ll ultimately empathize. “The way humor and sadness can work together is powerful,” he says.
Honest and sometimes subversive, but never mean-spirited, Carll keeps writing sad, funny, compelling songs in which nobody’s perfect or predictable––at least not for long. And he can’t quit wishing we’ll all realize that’s the way anything worth having or being has got to go. “I hope this record helps people feel good, laugh a bit, and maybe give them something to lean on when they need it,” he says. “I hope they dance to it, too.”
Margo Cilker’s sophomore album, Valley of Heart’s Delight, refers to a place she can’t return: California’s Santa Clara Valley, as it was known before the orchards were paved over and became more famous for Silicon than apricots. Margo is the fifth generation of Cilker’s born there, and in this 11-song collection, family and nature intertwine as guiding motifs, at once precious and endangered, beautiful and exhausting. The trees here are family trees, or they’re apricot trees, but suburban sprawl isn’t looking good for either. Cilker moved from California to the Pacific Northwest in her mid-twenties and wrote much of Valley of Heart’s Delight while living in Enterprise, Oregon, a small town near the Snake River and powered by the river’s massive, publicly-funded hydroelectric dams. The dams (part of the same system Woody Guthrie was hired to write about) provide clean electricity to much of the western US but make it extraordinarily difficult for anadromous fish (such as Steelhead Trout) to return from the ocean and spawn in their native streams. Valley Of Heart’s Delight feeds off of this tension – how we live in and off of nature, how we live within and without family, and why we return to the places we were born.
Cilker and producer Sera Cahoone’s work on her critically acclaimed Pohorylle debut earned its accolades for lyric-focused production and understated musicianship. The pair maintain this approach on Valley of Heart’s Delight, bringing back the same crew to the same studio in Vancouver, Washington: Cahoone (Sub Pop, Carissa’s Weird, Band Of Horses) drums and produces, John Morgan Askew (Neko Case, Laura Gibson) engineers, Jenny Conlee-Drizos (The Decemberists) provides piano, organ, and accordion, Rebecca Young (Lindsey Fuller) plays bass, Kelly Pratt (Beirut) on horns, and of course, sister Sarah Cilker contributes harmonies. Those in need of more twang will appreciate the addition of Paul Brainard’s (M. Ward, Richmond Fontaine) pedal steel and telecaster work, Annie Staninec’s (Mary Gauthier) fiddle, and the mandolin and high lonesome harmony of Portland country standard-bearer Caleb Klauder. Cilker also branched out in her song-collecting, reeling in a cover (“Steelhead Trout”) by Idaho native Ben Walden, ostensibly because of artistic and thematic reasons, but also because, in Cilker’s words, “it’s a damn good song and I wanted to record it.” Walden also sings and plays harmonica on the track.
Cilker’s debut record was released in late 2021, a year swinging wildly between cloistered days of lockdown, social engagement roaring back to life like the former ‘20s, and the Greek alphabet entering the vernacular to turn us inwards again. This tumult was echoed in the artistic life of Margo Cilker, trying in vain to predict what kind of a world her first record would be released into while writing what would become her second. As it turned out, the world was welcoming of Pohorylle. The unpronouncably-titled, darkly-jacketed, quietly-released record ended up a darling of critics and fellow songwriters and notably ended up on albums-of-the-year lists in two different years (strange times indeed). The debut was also nominated for UK Americana Album of The Year alongside Brandi Carlile and Robert Plant, and earned Cilker a slew of festival performances and tours supporting American Aquarium, Hayes Carll, and Drive-By Truckers. Between tours, Cilker made time to record Valley Of Heart’s Delight, and its release on Fluff & Gravy Records (Loose Music in the UK/EU) will be followed by a US headline tour with her longtime road band.
Margo Cilker currently lives near the Columbia River in Goldendale, Washington with her husband, songwriter and working cowboy Forrest VanTuyl, as well their dog and some horses.
My first album was set to release in 2020. Then timelines got turned upside down, so I had time on my hands. I moped, walked in circles, then started writing again. Eventually, I sent a second crop of songs to Sera Cahoone and she was excited to take another swing at producing. I started referring to this new set as “Valley of Heart’s Delight.” It’s an homage to the place I was born — a place I have roots, but don’t always feel like I belong — the Santa Clara Valley in California, which was once known as the Valley of Heart’s Delight due to its abundance of fruit orchards in the first half of the 20th century. My dad, born and raised in Los Altos, CA where I grew up, remembers a time when “apricot” meant more to the area than “Apple.”
I wrote these songs surrounded by the wild landscapes of the Northwest, but I was leaning toward the place I’d come from. I felt cut off from my family and the valley that held them. I spent hours thinking about my sense of belonging. I’d traveled through many places and then, when the travel stopped, I ruminated on where I had ended up. Where were you when the music stopped? I was in Enterprise, OR. And there in Enterprise, my mind drifted back to the Valley of Heart’s Delight.
I wrote about family — about death and rebirth, and the arcs of love and art through a family line. There are songs that hint at missteps and redemption. There are songs about trees: in orchard rows, family trees, redwoods. And water: agricultural runoff, wild rivers, dammed rivers, baptismal flows. And there’s a song about a fish, cause it’s a damn good song and I wanted to record it. (Ben Walden wrote “Steelhead Trout” and also plays the harmonica solo on “Santa Rosa”).
Forrest VanTuyl was the first to hear most of these songs, as he was the songwriter nearest to me throughout. Some of his suggestions and edits made the final cut. You’ll see he’s credited on “Sound & Fury,” “I Remember Carolina” and “All Tied Together.”
We recorded 14 tracks at Bocce with Sera Cahoone and John Morgan Askew at the helm and a cast of Northwest players, some old and some new. I especially love how Annie Staninec’s fiddle, Jenny’s accordion and piano, and Caleb Klauder’s mandolin play off each other once we got cooking. Paul Brainard’s pedal steel chimes around the record and we get the elastic twang of his electric guitar. My sister Sarah and Caleb lend their harmony singing. Kelly Pratt delivered the horns on “Keep It on a Burner.” The heart of the songs remains Sera and Rebecca as the rhythm section and myself on acoustic guitar, just like last time. The first go-round we figured out how to work together; this time, we’d studied the rapids, and we just ran the river. I’m glad we did. It was a quick recording and a longer mixing process, but a fruitful one. I am lucky to have worked on this project under Sera’s mentorship and with her constant encouragement.
Margo Cilker’s sophomore album, Valley of Heart’s Delight, refers to a place she can’t return: California’s Santa Clara Valley, as it was known before the orchards were paved over and became more famous for Silicon than apricots. In this 11-song follow-up to 2021’s critically acclaimed Pohorylle, family and nature intertwine as guiding motifs, at once precious and endangered, beautiful and exhausting. Cilker and Pohorylle producer Sera Cahoone brought most of that record’s highly-acclaimed crew (studio players for The Decemberists, Band Of Horses, and Beirut) back to the studio with additional contributions from acclaimed Northwest traditionalist Caleb Klauder. Valley of Heart’s Delight, Cilker’s second record on Portland, Oregon label Fluff & Gravy Records, follows a year busily reaping the fruits of Pohorylle‘s success, with festival appearances at Pickathon, Treefort, and End Of The Road, and tours supporting American Aquarium, Hayes Carll, Drive-By Truckers, and Joshua Ray Walker.
Margo Cilker lives near the Columbia River in Goldendale, Washington with her husband, songwriter and working cowboy Forrest VanTuyl, as well their dog and some horses.
RECENT FESTIVALS: End Of The Road (UK), The Long Road (UK), Tønder (DK), Pickathon, High Sierra, Kilkenny Roots (IE), Treefort, AmericanaFest
TOURING SUPPORT: American Aquarium, Hayes Carll, Joshua Ray Walker, Drive-By Truckers
POHORYLLE PRESS: NPR All Things Considered profile, Pitchfork (7.7 Review), Rolling Stone, Stereogum (Best Country Albums 2021), Oxford American, No Depression, Brooklyn Vegan (15 Country Singers Every Indie Fan Needs To Know), The Guardian UK (5 star live review), Uncut (UK)
“Margo Cilker, bridging the urban-rural divide through music.” — NPR’s All Things Considered
“This extraordinary US singer-songwriter makes country and western her newly minted own…a flawless gem of a record” — The Guardian
“A vivid introduction to this country artist who pushes against conventions of the genre that don’t fit her perspective” — Pitchfork
“Cilker shows that she is as interested in reinvigorating Southern country-folk storytelling tropes as she is in exposing their flaws” — Rolling Stone
“One of the finest records to come out of the Northwest last year, Pohorylle brims with evocative songwriting indebted to Western authors like Pam Houston and country music, though not the stuff heard on mainstream country radio these days.” — Seattle Times