MARGO CILKER’s got a farewell song for every place she’s lived. Margo Cilker has lived a lot of places: she “used to be Montana, wild and free,” she’s “a California dogwood, not sure where I belong,” “the worst crime [she] commits is hesitation- waitin’ on that Bilbao precipitation.” Since “finishing her studies” in Clemson, South Carolina in 2015 and releasing her debut EP Boots and Spain and Boots Again, the native Californian apprenticed herself to the songwriter’s trade in true vagabond style: move to Spain and busk all over Europe a la Ramblin’ Jack, sing a duet on a Spanish Honky-Tonk band’s recording of an Ernest Tubb classic (“Nails in my Coffin,” with Dead Bronco), front a Lucinda Williams tribute band in Bilbao, make a record in England (2017’s Field Heat EP) and tour Europe with a band of Flatt-and-Scruggs-obsessed Englishmen, then come home and milk cows on an organic farm in Petaluma – and make another record.
2018’s California Dogwood EP is Cilker weighing the cost of a life spent honing a craft and carving out a space to call home. There’s the rambling, meditative title track’s offer to “come back with me if you want to, we can start our country life – I’ve got the will and I’ve got the tractor, I wanna be your singing country wife,” and Bilbao Precipitation’s brutally honest look at the dark corners of making a life in art: “Sometimes having songs to sing feels like a torture, calling out to other poets: tell me your secrets, I’ll trade you all of my bad habits for your diseases- maybe we’ll write songs then.” Cilker writes songs that philosophize hard work, heartbreak, and wanderlust with the reverence of a country music obsessive and the sharp-eyed clarity of one who was not born into country music but had to find it (and live it) for herself. She picks an acoustic like Woody Guthrie at his most fervently righteous and sings with the control and focus of a voice that has earned its edges in dive bars and busking pitches. Cilker hasn’t slouched on stateside touring, either: she played over 100 shows in 2017, and is on track for as many in 2018 including Red Ants Pants Music Festival (MT), Offbeat Festival (NV), and Oregon Country Fair. Last we heard, Cilker was calling her native California home again and her band The Cargo Milkers was playing shows with Barna Howard, Elijah Ocean, and Caleb Caudle… But don’t expect her to stick around long. She is, after all, “an uneasy woman”.
An American Forrest has been a songwriter for over a decade but fell off the map into the wilds of Eastern Oregon more recently than that. Fatefully, he fell in love with a woman who knew horses, and Cormac Mcarthy novels. His interest piqued, he landed a job with a pack-outfit and got hooked on the lifestyle. Now, when he’s not writing songs, he’s learning from older cowboys to train horses, or leading pack mules laden with gear into the Eagle Cap and Hells Canyon Wilderness. “My theory is that living out there six months out of year is bound to work its way into my songs. Western music is very closely tied to the landscape, and it’s a regional sound”.
For VanTuyl that sound ranges from solo acoustic confessionals and covers to full band expositions. Stories of a man who left behind the comfort and security of modern life, for a job atop a horse. A man who returned from the wilderness a hardened, smoothed, tempered version of his former self. One who set about writing songs, recording the experience of finding himself on magnetic tape. Along the way he’s played with Corb Lund, Dave Stamey, and John Craigie, and been invited to perform at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada.