Finally Friday At Home With Margo Cilker and Adam Shoenfeld
A long, cold week lies ahead, but keep your eyes on the prize - the noontime video teleportation device that is Finally Friday at Home, taking us to the inner sanctums of recording artists and songwriters with something new to say. This week we look out to Oregon for the heart-rending neo country songcraft of Margo Cilker and just across town for a set by Music City good-at-everything-guy Adam Shoenfeld.
Probably because I’m still processing the film Get Back and more likely because their influence is still overwhelming, I’m hearing The Beatles shine through in a lot of new music. I certainly hear it - Magical Mystery Tour Beatles - in “The Sky Is Falling Down,” by Adam Shoenfeld, a single in advance of his personal debut album All The Birds Sing, which arrives on the day of his WMOT appearance.
Shoenfeld has been living the Nashville dream as an all-around musician since arriving here fresh out of high school (from New Jersey) more than 25 years ago. He picked his guitar at historic Woodland Studio early on, an auspicious place to start. Then Adam got connected with the MuzikMafia, a collective that made a years-long scene at the venerable 12th & Porter and its across-the-street neighbor the Pub of Love. They staged shows and guitar pulls, germinating the careers of country stars Big & Rich, Gretchen Wilson and others. Shoenfeld became a go-to guitar player in studio and stage for that crew and across the country business, with six ACM Guitarist of the Year nominations to his credit. Most recently he’s played on the road with Tim McGraw. And he wrote at least one big hit along the way, a #1 for Faith Hill.
Now Adam’s stepping out with his own music. “I love getting to play guitar for people and making a living doing that,” he says in the project bio. “It’s the best job in the world, but I’ve always been an artist at heart.” I’ve yet to hear the full record, but it’s clear he’s not swinging for the jobs of bro pals like Luke Bryan. The diversity of his tastes can be seen in his three, count ‘em, three side bands, including the power pop Project: Ghost Outfit with Cheap Trick’s Tom Petersson and Nashville hero Bill Lloyd. This should be really interesting.
Meanwhile, Margo Cilker arrives from Oregon with a murky album photo, a title whose pronunciation I can only guess at (a tough spot for a radio host), and stark, outstanding, country-shaded Americana. These songs, rich with intimate details and a storyteller’s thrall, are hitting me in the solar plexus and the cerebral cortex like few things I’ve heard in a year.
Pohorylle came out in early November, but for those with open ears, it didn’t get lost in the holiday glare. Pitchfork raved about it, dropping a heavy but appropriate name: “Folding in enough places, names, and plainspoken observations to warrant comparisons to Lucinda Williams, Cilker is a sly presence on Pohorylle (whose title refers to both a backpack company and a photojournalist who died during the Spanish Civil War).”
We’ve been blessed with recent albums by women who’ve updated and feminized the outlaw poetry of Kristofferson and Silverstein, and Cilker is among the most striking. I hear the vocal authority of Morgan Wade mingled with the steely poetry of fellow Oregnian Anna Tivel. I hear a writer whose Didion-like participation in the world around her would get a raised eyebrow and a nod from James McMurtry. “Broken Arm In Oregon” wipes clear an opaque window into domestic abuse. “Tehachapi” brings novelistic verisimilitude to a song about being left by a lover. And I love “Barbed Wire (Belly Crawl),” with its tavern scene where “the band gets an encore, the farmer a stiff pour” in honky tonk waltz time. All the little pieces just fit together, and I’m eager to hear Cilker sing those pieces into a microphone.