Artist/s: Troy Cassar-Daley (vocals/guitar/banjo), Matt Fell (producer/bass/keys), Chris Kamzelas/Jim Moginie/Mark Punch (guitars), John Schuberth (drums), Clayton Doley (keys), James Church (dobro), Shane Howard (bodhran/whistle/violin), Ian Moss (vocals on South), Laurel Edwards/Chris E Thomas/Kate Brianna (backing vocals)
Category: Contemporary, Country, Rock
Reviewed by Noel Mengel
“Right at the centre, physically and spiritually, the title tune is as powerful as anything Cassar-Daley has ever written.”
Troy Cassar-Daley has been singing and writing about this country since his debut album, released in 1996. But he has never dug deeper into it, or revealed more of himself, than he has on this richly rewarding 11th album.
It has been the toughest 12 months for so many in this country with bushfire, covid, lockdown, flood. The news is tough to watch too, from Black Lives Matter and the death of George Floyd to political turmoil at home and abroad.
Musicians certainly weren’t alone in feeling like their world was knocked off its axis. But for those who are used to the rhythm of the music business – write, record, get on the road and connect with the people who have made you what you are – it was a time of doubt. What am I if not this?
We all need purpose, meaning. If your whole working life has taught you to keep moving, to the next song, the next show, what comes out of staying still?
Cassar-Daley already had much to trouble him. His father died in 2019. What Troy didn’t share at the time was that his father took his own life. He admits now he didn’t give himself time to grieve.
Recording and touring was on hold, even getting together with a band was impossible for a time.
Despite all the romantic fantasies outsiders have of it, the musical life is seldom easy, even with all the awards and hit records that someone like Cassar-Daley has acquired along the way.
Cassar-Daley’s rock through his career has been wife Laurel Edwards, the Brisbane radio announcer. Cassar-Daley says: “The thing that suffered most out of all this was my marriage to Laurel and our kids having to witness their parents’ relationship slowly falling apart and I didn’t know how to fix it.”
What was left was to go to his home studio, surrounded by familiar instruments he loves, and try to find his purpose, to write his way out of pain.
It worked. The marriage is still strong. The music is at times tougher, more bluesy rock than commercial country, the throbbing Parole and Drive in the Dark, the Tom Petty-esque smalltown tale of South, co-written and sung with Cold Chisel’s Ian Moss. Anyone who has seen a Cassar-Daley live show knows he is a great electric guitar player, something which hasn’t been to the fore on some of his records. That electric guitar is prominent on songs like these, and anyone looking for a more trad country sound will have to wait for another time.
There is plenty of vulnerability too. The achingly beautiful Heart Like a Small Town set in “the streets where sadness grows untended”. There are three songs about incarceration: I Still Believe finds hope after the jail door closes, and is as tender as any song about outrunning your demons can be. There is redemption too in the raw honesty of My Heart Still Burns for You, co-written with Paul Kelly and sung to Laurel, who joins him on backing vocals.
Cassar-Daley’s indigenous heritage is another foundation stone in his life and music. The opening Back on Country draws on the revitalising power of nature. It is a song of healing that began with a story heard on a fishing trip in Moreton Bay. Cassar-Daley sings: “Ancient stories, different worlds of love, hate and fear, a single dream, our many tribes all come together here.”
The album goes out the way it comes in I Hear My River, deep in the country in all its beauty and sorrow.
Right at the centre, physically and spiritually, the title tune is as powerful as anything Cassar-Daley has ever written. Of George Floyd he sings: “I watched a man die on the news tonight/It took eight long minutes to lose his life”. How we react to the horror on our screens and the difficult times we all face is something Cassar-Daley has had time to think about, and the answer he finds is in this song: “What are you going to do for the world today?”
It is a big subject, a heavy one, but this songwriter delivers it with a sure touch.
In Matt Fell Cassar-Daley has a producer who nurtures his roots-rock leanings and encourages him to let rip with his expressive electric guitar. And his voice, now a little grittier, a little deeper, matches the emotional heft of the songs.