Ka-Ching…With Twang: The War and Treaty – Lover’s Game

In 2020 Tanya and Michael Trotter were in the right place at the right time. Their album Hearts Town was sensational, a mix of gospel and country, blues and rock, black and white. It was distributed by Rounder Records, which made them an independent spirit and a flickering flame which didn’t catch fire due to the lack of live performances surrounding the album.

This became an inferno, however, when George Floyd was killed. This reminded Nashville that they really needed, on pain of irrelevance if they ignored it, a country music that reflects all of America, not just one flavour. We’ve thus had Mickey Guyton’s debut album, Kane Brown’s move to an A List star and a comedian of Asian descent, Henry Cho, invited to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry. All of these are Good.

The War and Treaty had already been acclaimed, having made their debut on the hallowed Opry stage in 2019, with a backstory that would appeal to Americans: Michael is a veteran who served in Iraq, and Tanya was a singer in her own right. In May 2022, a few months before winning Duo/Group of the Year at the Americana Awards (they won Emerging Artist in 2019), the pair signed a record deal with Mercury, which is swimming in Chris Stapleton money. They have been paired with Stapleton’s producer Dave Cobb, which must have been a fun series of sessions.

Holler Country gave Lover’s Game a 10/10 rating, though they mistakenly called it their debut (it’s their fourth) and was described as ‘a fervent cleansing…beacons dotting a craggy shoreline…an antidote to the world’s sickly state’. Up Yonder is even compared to Amazing Grace, ‘testifying to their belief that love heals all’. Is this hyperbole, or fashionable identity politics?

Regardless, they’re playing the Long Road, which might as well be named Baylen Leonard’s Rainbow Country Festival since all creeds, colours and genres are encouraged. This is a Good Thing as country music must adapt or die, although it would be nice if REDACTED hadn’t happened last year to make me question the LAWYERS ADVISED REDACTION of the festival.

Let’s consider the music, as I did with their last album. The interesting thing about The War and Treaty is that they can glide into the Adult Contemporary chart; they’re country in the way Little Big Town, Brothers Osborne or Chris Stapleton are country. Handily, they’re opening for Chris this summer.

Four songs were rolled out in 2022: Lover’s Game, the rock’n’roll boogie that serves as the album’s opening track; Blank Page, which would work in a Bob Harris Segue next to Broken Halos; and Dumb Luck, written by Beau Bedford, which quotes Wagon Wheel and allows Tanya’s voice to enjoy the natural echo of Nashville Studio A. (Fun fact: Dave Cobb took it over from Ben Folds, who saved it from closure after he rented it during the 2000s. Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley invented the Nashville Sound there in the 1960s.)

That’s How Love Is Made was written with Dave Barnes and sounds like a standard, a mix of Ronnie Milsap and Al Green with some lush diminished chords. Michael takes verse one, Tanya verse two and they sell the heck out of it; love is ‘all or nothing’, by the way. I expected a lovely middle eight and this one is full of sunshine and cloudy days.

Of the six tracks which are new to fans, Ain’t No Harmin’ Me was the one chosen to announce the album. Michael wails about seeing the Devil in a very Stapletonesque manner; he ends Angel, another one of those love songs comparing a woman to a heavenly being, with a gospel throaty yarl. Yesterday’s Burn is a sombre waltz where ‘honey’ and ‘sweetheart’ want one another to lay their hurt on them, while The Best That I Have is supremely gentle with Michael singing falsetto to be within the same melodic range as Tanya’s lead. The Golden Girls get a nice namecheck too.

As for Up Yonder, it’s a funeral ballad sung in perfect harmony by the pair which could work a cappella without the most tender arrangement backing it. The album closes with Have You A Heart, a piano-driven gospel song. Perhaps TW&T will bring church music back to country. Even if they don’t, they’re a welcome addition to the pews of the genre.

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