Album Review: Album Review: Troy Cassar-Daley – The World Today

16 March 2021 | 11:47 am | Mallory Arbour

Australian country music royalty, Troy Cassar-Daley will release his eleventh and most personal studio album to date, The World Today on March 19.

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I don’t claim to be an expert, but I feel I’ve listened to enough Troy Cassar-Daley (TCD) that I have a good idea of what he and his music are all about. In fact, he was one of the first artists to get me into country music, and, if I was to do a This Album Changed My Life feature for the website, his 2004 Borrowed and Blue album would be a strong contender.

However, TCD began his career in 1995 with his debut album, Beyond the Dancing. Since then, he’s gone on to release a total of eleven studio albums, achieved a staggering 32 number one chart singles, and been awarded numerous accolades including 37 Golden Guitars, 4 ARIA Awards, 3 APRA Song of the Year Awards, 9 Deadlys (Australian Indigenous Artist Awards), 4 CMAA Entertainer of the Year Awards plus 2 NIMAs (National Indigenous Music Awards). Furthermore, in 2017, Troy was honoured as the 50th inductee into the prestigious Australasian Roll Of Renown.

On March 19 comes his most personal album to date. The World Today tackles grief, sadness, anger, love, passion, and acceptance, while finding a will to grow stronger and move forward. Produced by Matt Fell, the album features co-writes with the likes of Don Walker, Paul Kelly, Kevin Bennett, Shane Howard, Greg Storer, and Ian Moss.

TCD released the first single, Back On Country in January. As a proud Gumbaynggirr/Bundjalung man, the term ‘Back On Country’ is largely used by Indigenous Australians as a feeling of belonging. At the time of publication, the song currently sits at #3 on the Countrytown Music Network Hot 50 chart and has been streamed over 90K times on Spotify.

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However, Back On Country is devilishly deceptive. It hits that familiar TCD lyrical sweet spot, however, the underlying electric guitar riff is the first hint that this isn’t your typical TCD record — or perhaps, it's the rock & roll t-shirt he wears on the cover that is the dead giveaway.

Following Back On Country and My Heart Still Burns For You, by the time you get to track 3, TCD goes hard. Dark, moody lyrics accompany areas of his voice that I didn’t know he had in him. It was during Parole that my ears peaked up. The album became less background noise as I actively stopped what I was doing and listened intently, taking in every word, grungy tone and gruff texture in awe and fascination like I had not heard TCD before. 

Bear in mind, it is not that the song is better – it is just different, unexpected, and simply, f*cking good.

Excuse the profanity, but even TCD isn’t afraid to drop some curse words on this album. Again, unexpected – I certainly don’t associate his music having the occasional f-bomb. And yet, here we are.

After 30 years in the industry, I get the feeling TCD is acting out, exploring his rebellious side that he’s always wanted to share but been too afraid to until now. The album is littered with electric guitar solos and nods to outlaw country, slight wild west and touches of Louisiana inspired sounds (especially on Rain Maker).

Not including his Greatest Hits and Christmas albums, TCD’s last original album was Things I Carry Around, an accompaniment to his memoir of the same name released in 2016. A lot can happen in five years – and this album is proof of that. The World Today touches on tragically losing his father and friend both to suicide in 2019, and troubles in his 25-year marriage to radio and television presenter, Laurel Edwards, as well as being unable to tour and provide for his family during the pandemic, which left him feeling lost, alone, and hopeless.

“I found myself hiding in the studio for hours on end, trying to write my way out of the dark cloud that had descended on me, and I slowly found the answers in simply creating songs,” he says. “The last few years made me realise that no one and nothing in life is perfect and at any time it can become derailed if you don’t nurture what matters. I know that’s what we all strive for, but we have to be realistic and face the pain and the shit that comes with life but the most important thing making it through. This record is really about that.”

Added to this personal grief, he was heavily affected by George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests. The album touches on this, his connection to the country as well as the rising protest around Aboriginal deaths in custody and over-representation in the prison system (Parole and Doin’ Time).

Track 6 is – hands down – my favourite offering. Spanning just over 7 minutes, with roughly a three-and-a-half-minute electric guitar instrumental introduction, Drive In The Dark (Be A Man) is slightly ostentatious yet mighty courageous. The electric guitar solos, he says, were influenced by his songwriting for Jimmy Barnes and Cold Chisel over the last five to ten years, as well as recent tours with the latter and Midnight Oil.

TCD previously recorded Bird On A Wire with Barnes on 2005’s Brighter Day and his 2007 Born To Survive Greatest Hits album. Including Barnes, TCD has collaborated numerous times during his 30-year career span, including with Slim Dusty, The McClymonts, Paul Kelly and Adam Harvey on the ARIA-nominated, platinum-certified The Great Country Songbook, just to name a few. But I dare say, the dangerous South featuring Ian Moss is up there as one of his best.

However, I don’t want to give the impression that the album doesn’t showcase TCD’s softer sounds. Doin’ Time, How You Fall, I Hear My River and I Still Believe are all void of electric guitar. My Heart Still Burns For You is a sweet paean for his wife, similar in sentiment to John Farnham's Burn For You. But Heart Like A Small Town and Broken Hearts Fly are standout ballads steeped in raw honesty and vulnerability.

Furthermore, on the title track, TCD challenges people to ask themselves what they’re going to do today to make the world a better place. The message is topical, timely and truthful, and is an important question we should all ask ourselves. The lyrics also touch on George Floyd’s murder, unity, equality and the subject of suicide.

There is a lot of positivity on this album too, and that comes from the optimism of an experienced songwriter and artist who has survived through recent heartbreak and tragedy – which, in itself, is powerful and admirable. TCD adds, “An old uncle of mine used to say ‘it's not all beer and skittles’ and that saying is so true … but I feel alive again after making this record and more aware of everything and everyone around me. Bring on more beer and skittles, I say.”

While TCD has never been afraid to tackle sensitive subject matters, I implore TCD to take more chances and experiment with these deeper tones. It suits his voice and provides something a little different to his already extensive repertoire. Every track won’t appease traditional country music purists, but for those with an open mind there is a lot to like here. And while there is nothing stopping you from playing The World Today in the background, your listening experience will be enhanced by immersing yourself in the complexities of its lyrics and stories.

In short, The World Today is a good example of an artist staying true to himself while pushing the boundaries. Rather than a change, the album is a progression for Troy Cassar-Daley that needs repeat listening to be fully appreciated.

 The World Today is out March 19.

Keep up to date with everything Troy Cassar-Daley and follow him on Facebook here.

For more reviews from CountryTown, check here.

Image: Supplied