All the War and Treaty need is love
The way that Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Trotter — a.k.a. The War and Treaty — sing, you’d think love was going out of style. Ever since they were drafted to fill an ailing Buddy Miller’s spot at the 2017 Americana Music Festival and Conference, the married duo from Albion, Mich., have been lighting up the folk scene, and with the release of debut LP “Healing Tide” on Friday, their star is due for an even bigger ascent. Their music dances on the intersection of soul, gospel, country, and roots music, and when you hit play, you can almost smell the sweat rising from a riled-up crowd.
The path the two took toward this music and each other wasn’t exactly straightforward. As detailed in a 2015 Washington Post column, Michael and his mother fled his abusive father when he was 13, after which they lived in a shelter home in Washington, D.C. Following high school, he served with the Army in Iraq, where he learned to play the piano while his unit was camped in one of Saddam Hussein’s ruined palaces. After he wrote a song for a friend who was killed in action, he was asked to perform original songs about other fallen soldiers at their memorial services. When Michael came home, he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Tanya had a different sort of start; she was one of a class of back-talking schoolgirls in the 1993 musical comedy “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit,” in which she sang “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” with a teenage Lauryn Hill. The next year, she released an album of cool, slickly produced R&B that included the Billboard-charting “Through the Rain.” Though her musical career continued, she largely faded from the public eye following complications with her label.
In contrast to Tanya’s earlier work, the War and Treaty’s music is soul-shaking and raucous. Michael’s lyrics draw on the duo’s complex personal journeys toward love. Their sound has drawn comparisons to that of Ike and Tina Turner, but given the shadow cast by Ike’s years of abuse, it feels almost wrong to compare the two couples.
The “Healing Tide” the War and Treaty sings about is love, and theirs is not a cynic’s album. And even without backstories, the songs speak for themselves. Michael plays keyboards and wields his clarion tenor like a flaming sword. Tanya’s voice is sinuous and muscular, with a raw edge that was wrapped in layers of reverb on her earlier work but now packs an invigorating punch as she tears through high notes. Only one song mentions religion outright, but many of the tracks rumble with the vigorous rhythms of the kind of black church music that was imprinted on so many of the first rock ’n’ roll musicians.
The title track swings in harmony, with a fiery, shouting chorus. Emmylou Harris, who brought brownies to their recording session at Buddy Miller’s Nashville home, warbles a guest verse and harmonies on the sunwashed “Here Is Where the Loving Is At.” The Trotters’ passion for each other is on full view on tracks such as “Hearts” and “All I Want to Do,” and “Jeep Cherokee Laredo” rocks on the coy, cute edge of raunchy. On the album opener “Love Like There’s No Tomorrow,” the two cry out that declaration over a slow, simmering beat, calling to everyone who can hear them to do the same.