The timeless themes of faith, hope and love recur across the War and Treaty's new album Lover's Game. That's no surprise from Michael and Tanya Trotter, a married couple making uplifting music that's grounded in country, R&B and gospel.
Of course, honest takes on any relationship concede that there's concessions made at every stage. Even Michael and Tanya, whose love comes across as the most perfect union, need to put in the work-- thus the name War and Treaty. On Lover's Game, the duo shares snapshots of romance across time, from the slightly anxious feel of courtship to a feeling of bliss that, per their Christian faith, will be eternal.
There's been consistent and deserved praise for years now of Michael and Tanya's vocal skills. With Lover's Game, their already-lauded gifts as wordsmiths should get equal credit because there's no low point lyrically in this 10-song collection.
An album that's this solid from start to finish couldn't come at a better time. It's the duo's first full-length release for UMG, a major Nashville label. In a just world, they'll finally get their flowers from country music power brokers while maintaining their strong footing under the broad umbrella of Americana.
Read on for a track-by-track rundown of one of the best albums so far in 2023.
1. "Lover's Game"
The Trotters let loose their inner Southern rockers on this song they co-wrote with the album's producer, country and Americana magic-maker Dave Cobb. It's a heavy-hitting blast of blues-rock that would sound at home on the same playlist as Blackberry Smoke and Chris Stapleton. Lyrically, it begins a collection of sweet love songs with an accurate take on the hot pursuit that precedes the sorts of steamy romances that Michael and Tanya excel at summing up. Listen here.
2. "Blank Page"
A piano intro that makes it seem like we're about to hear a Kris Kristofferson gospel song sets up the introductory chapter of the love story that's penned after the "Lover's Game" is won. "You're a blank page/ Waiting for someone to write on. Lyrics from my heart is searching for the right home" begins the first of the couple's several moments of poetic brilliance. Listen here.
3. "Ain't No Harmin' Me"
A powerful song filled with Biblical analogies about overcoming pitfalls, "Ain't No Harmin' Me" is one of the best showcases to date of Tanya's powerful and arresting vocal delivery -- and the beautiful music she makes with Michael's own undeniable range. As songwriters, they outdid themselves with such lines as: "I taste the nectar/ Of the forbidden tree. My eyes have been open/ To your bitter schemes. Ain't no way you can harm me." Listen here.
4. "Yesterday's Burn"
A romantic high point on an album filled with sweet sentiments, "Yesterday's Burn" ups the country quotient by sounding like a slow-tempo honky tonk gem. It's five minutes of reassurance from one partner to another that past pains with a former flame won't repeat themselves. Had it been written 50 years earlier, it would've set up an amazing Willie Nelson and Tracy Nelson (no relation) duet. Listen here.
5. "That's How Love is Made"
Another song with a piano intro that's lifted straight from a church service, Michael sings like a soulful balladeer before Tanya takes center stage. This back and forth gives similar perspectives from two partners that admit that even the most special relationships take work: "It's all or nothing/ Gotta give to get something. That's what it takes/ That's how love is made." Listen here.
6. "The Best That I Have"
The Trotter family shows off its versatility again with what can best be described as smooth R&B with country instrumentation. Like "Blank Page," it tells of mutual infatuation that needs just one night, even if it's spent on the couch watching Golden Girls reruns, to turn into requited love. Listen here.
7. "Dumb Luck"
Michael gives the War and Treaty a fitting sub-genre tag, gospel-country, in this uplifting song that praises God for every good break the couple's gotten in recent years. Cello accompaniment adds a somber feel to the lone departure from the album's love song theme-- though clearly, their marriage is among the blessings to fall in Michael and Tanya's laps. Listen here.
The duo leads a full-on worship service on a song that likens real love to an ideal afterlife experience. Indeed, Michael and Tanya's high notes sound as spirited as a "hallelujah" in church as they sing of the euphoria that's the payoff for the give-and-take of marriage. Listen here.
9. "Up Yonder"
While most songs on the album bring gospel undertones both musically and lyrically, standout track "Up Yonder" is a straight-up spiritual that lifts part of its chorus from the 19th century hymn "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder." It fits the album's overall theme by telling the story of partners who'll be looking for each other, not a deceased relative or Jesus Himself, the minute they arrive in Heaven. This tale of a truly lasting love has Americana Honors & Awards recognition written all over it. Listen here.
10. "Have You a Heart"
Another could-be Willie Nelson song, grand finale "Have You a Heart" ties together many of the above comparisons to revival-starting hymns, classic country love ballads and R&B show stoppers. Better yet, it covers the checklist of why Ray Charles earned a spot in the Country Music Hall of Fame. It's a fitting end to an album that explores different genres while dissecting the complexities of romance. Listen here.
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