Review: Margo Cilker Can’t Go Home Again on the Stirring ‘Valley of Heart’s Delights’

Margo Cilker
Valley of Heart’s Delight
(Fluff & Gravy)
4 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

“If at first you succeed, do it again,” could be the thought process behind Pacific Northwest-based singer/songwriter Margo Cilker.

The follow-up to her 2019 widely praised, if oddly named (Pohorylle), debut, collects many of the same talents who crafted that dark horse release. Producer Sera Cahoone returns as does engineer/mixer John Morgan Askew, along with most of the musicians. The players/producers and artistic approach are so similar that these songs could have been, but weren’t, recorded during those sessions.

Despite her Americana singer/songwriter inclinations, Cilker’s insistence on staying about as far away from Nashville as US geography allows, lets her create music without big names getting involved. She’s also modest enough not to put her name on the album’s cover.

I got people, I got places, I got things, I got friends / I got something when there’s nothing coming up from within, she sings showing how comfortable she is with her life as jazzy New Orleans-styled horns support her on the incredible “Keep It on a Burner.” Throwing in a Creedence reference with I got wasted, I got waylaid, I got stuck in Lodi again, rings true on what is one of many highlights here.

The groove goes honky-tonking for “I Remember Carolina” complete with swinging pedal steel, mandolin, and fiddle as she rattles off over a dozen states and cities she has visited and her impressions of them. Repeating the phrase Best burger in Texas, closes the joyous tune on an unsettled note though.

Cilker obsesses with being unable to return to California’s Santa Clara Valley where she was raised, due to the tech industry taking over. She misses family too, detailed in the melodically thumping mid-tempo “Mother Told Her Mother Told Me,” with glistening pedal steel bringing the country to her flowing Laurel Canyon vibe.

On the darker Band-styled flow of “Crazy or Died” she details friends who have succumbed to either or both of the titular conditions with Everyone I look up to/Has gone crazy or died, concluding with Jesus, if he returns a second time, would do the same. That dusky humor is rare in the organic genre she works in.

The closing “All Tied Together” finds producer Cahoone stripping the already uncluttered sound to just Cilker’s acoustic guitar and piano on a song deliberating what seems to be the death of a friend. She muses on the tune’s title singing If it’s all tied together are we better unwound? in a bittersweet voice stained with sadness. It ends this sublime album with an uneasy air. Regardless, on Valley of Heart’s Delight Cilker proves herself to be one of our finest and most literate songwriters, one whose physical and psychological distance from the pressures of Nashville seems to be at least partially tied to her artistic triumphs.        

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