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
What good is a song if it doesn’t make you feel something? Jeremy Ferrara knows this, and refuses to waste a minute of your time. His good nature and innate tenderness is inescapable, and anyone within earshot of his quavering voice and quiet guitar is likely to swoon in sympathetic reaction. He’s a folksinger, and a song-diviner. His music is as fun as it is finely detailed. His latest album Everything I Hold is exemplary of this style. Produced by Mike Coykendall, the LP features just Jeremy, his guitar, and voice, on eight songs that fill the listener with wonder, empathy, and joy.
Though he’s been playing in bands and experimenting with his talent since the credulous age of 11 years old, it wasn’t until Ferrara went away to college that he was able to fully realize his love of musicianship. While studying physics at UC Santa Barbara, Ferrara frequented thriving DIY music spaces like Biko Garage. These were more than just spaces for Ferrara though. It was in these intimate settings that Ferrara would forge his identity as a musician and find his love for touring. A love that has carried him through 4+ years of multiple tours throughout the US and Europe.
While drawing inspiration from greats like Joni Mitchell, Conor Oberst, Adrianne Lenker, and Neil Young, Ferrara is still able to achieve his own distinct sound. His endearingly forthright lyrics are driven by modern indie hooks paired with timeless, tender, folky sounds. Open tunings and fingerpicking are sprinkled throughout Ferrara’s works, giving them a classic and comforting sort of twang. His debut album, With Every Change (2020), calls on the techniques of his folk predecessors and was first tracked on the stage of a 100-year-old theatre over 3 and a half days in the tiny mountain town of Enterprise, Oregon; before full band features like keyboard and pedal steel were later overdubbed.
At the heart of Ferrara’s work, you will find… well, Ferrara’s own heart. His open-hearted songwriting lays all to bare and takes no shame in doing so.