‘I let her spirit do the talking on this record’: Troy Cassar-Daley memorializes his mother on Between The Fires

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‘I let her spirit do the talking on this record’: Troy Cassar-Daley memorializes his mother on Between The Fires

troy cassar-daley
words by bryget chrisfield

“I'm lost out at sea/ Sinking like a goddamn stone/ My lighthouse is gone/ How am I gonna find my way home?”

Between The Fires’ opening title track finds Troy Cassar-Daley drowning in grief following the death of his mother. 

The scar tree in this album’s cover photo is located behind Cassar-Daley’s childhood home in Halfway Creek on Gumbaynggirr country (northern New South Wales). Cassar-Daley’s “lighthouse” passed away in her sleep at this location in 2022, while he toured the country alongside his mate Ian Moss.

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Returning to country and spending time by the fire helped him mourn. So Cassar-Daley decided to record there – where he used to jam as a kid – recently acknowledging, “I let her spirit do the talking on this record”. 

Cassar-Daley hadn’t heard or spotted a curlew around his mum’s place until one turned up shortly following her death. While introducing Dreams, during which Cassar-Daley’s timbre evokes Willie Nelson, a smartphone-recorded curlew call mirrors his sorrow.

Fun fact: In the mid-90s, Cassar-Daley toured with The Highwaymen – Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Nelson. 

Elsewhere, phone recordings of a wailing flock of black cockatoos and thunder (Ready For The Rain) contribute to this record’s distinct sense of place.

Only about a third of Between The Fires navigates sorry business, however. This multiple ARIA Award-winning Gumbaynggirr/Bundjalung man also veers down some side roads, including marital strife – Thankful and Congratulations (“you finally pushed me away”) – and Indigenous history during his latest set.

Having belatedly discovered Windradyne through a cousin’s tattoo, Cassar-Daley immortalises this Wiradjuri warrior and resistance leader from the 1800s through (banjo-led) song.

Melodically, Let’s Ride – a road-trippin’, Kasey Chambers-feating track – brings I Won’t Back Down by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers to mind. The gently rolling We Still Have A Chance (“We should love one another/ No matter what side”) encourages listeners to hold onto hope, post-Voice referendum.  

“Some days are better than others/ Some days I miss my mother…” – right when we thought it was safe to push the Kleenex aside, Some Days reopens the floodgates. 

All slinky double bass and shimmering guitar, Till I Get Over You slaps harder than it has any goddamn right to; it’s giving Bad Things (aka True Blood’s theme song). Cold Chisel was front of mind while penning this standout stomper, so Cassar-Daley called Don Walker in for some lyrical guidance: “When I get out, I wanna drive my car/ Through that fucker’s house…”  

Throughout the stripped-back closing track, recorded in Cassar-Daley’s mum’s kitchen, we’re transported right there beside him: “There’s a hole in my heart the size of the Clarence River/ It runs deep and wide, it’s impossible to fill/ Probably never will/ Moving on…”