“Things I Carry Around” – AVAILABLE NOW!
There’s a singular line towards the middle of Troy Cassar-Daley’s majestic new album that snags you like a sprig of barbed wire.
“I live the tales that I tell.”
That, to me, lies at the epicentre of what makes Troy probably this country’s preeminent and most important balladeer. He writes and sings about what he knows, without frill, without varnish, with a purity that somehow makes his experiences universal.
When he sings of cooking toast on a piece of wire, or the silhouette of girls dancing by a campfire, or of wattles in bloom, or of a broken heart, you are there with him. His joy and his pain become yours.
And with 30 years’ experience in the music business, he has become – like great writers, great painters – an absolute master of economy. He simply says so much with seemingly so little.
Things I Carry Around is like opening up a large suitcase and having memories and family pictures and sounds and scents and tears and laughter and heartbreak all tumble out around you; a case full of life in all its variations.
The opening track – Funny How Things Change – sets the tone, harking back to simpler times when Troy used to fire up his old HD Holden and hit the road. It’s a meditation on a time when there used to be “someone real” to talk to at the telephone exchange, when human beings interacted and shared something of themselves. It is about the cycle of loss and new beginnings.
In the haunting and moving title track, Things I Carry Around, Troy taps our collective experience through the objects we cling to, and how powerfully they can evoke memories across time. He writes in the song: “There’s a memory in the corner of my mind.” He sings of having a pocket full of good times and regrets, and again, with a few deft strokes, we are reminded of what is precious in our lives.
Brighter Day, a haunting ballad (written with Paul Kelly) about Troy’s Uncle Hoppy, a man perennially down on his luck, again contains one of Troy’s greatest strengths as an artist – his ability to simultaneously chart hope and despair, to walk that very fine line that never fails to remind us that we are all human.
Then there is the extraordinary When My Daddy Played, a deeply stirring snapshot of a father and son relationship in a broken marriage. A boy, visiting his dad on school holidays in a strange city. “He’d get out his guitar,” Troy sings, “and every fear I had was gone.” Their connection is through music, their love built on songs, those gossamer threads of sound that not only binds these two people but all people.
My Gumbaynggirr Skies is a beautiful tribute to Troy’s traditional country; Down the Road sways with all the soulful joy of a Gospel revivalist moment; If My Heart Was a Town packs in all the despair of first love lost; and First Night Alone is visceral with the uncertainties of change.
In Blue Lights, the final track, Troy has, in just a couple of short minutes, produced perhaps one of his finest moments. “There’s a blue light flashing in the rain,” he speaks to the music, and what follows is a chilling poem, a prayer, to God, to anyone, to no one, about the consequences of our actions. “They say a man lies bleeding in the rain. What have I done, out on that highway, what have I done?”
You listen to Troy reciting this, a huge story about what it is to live, to fail, to fall, all of it distilled into what could be a Haiku poem, and might be your voice, yourself, asking these most primal of questions. Who am I? Where am I going? What is life?
Despite all this, the songs on Things I Carry Around make you feel there is hope. Always hope.
In the darkest corners of the mind, there is a light, and that light is a great Australian artist.
And his name is Troy Cassar-Daley.