Album Review – The War and Treaty’s “Lover’s Game”
There is no shortage of artists who don’t fit snugly or at all into the otherwise big tent of the country music genre who are clamoring to get in, and for a host of reasons. It’s often because in the pop or hip-hop worlds, these performers would be small fish in a big sea, yet in country music and Nashville, the competition is much less cutthroat. This has led to a host of performers whose marginal talent would never be accepted in other genres somehow finding a home in country, and sometimes using the new insistence upon diversity, equity, and inclusion as their avenue.
With the War and Treaty, the situation is reversed. The talent from this duo is so immense, it’s country music that wants to stake its claim upon them, usher them into its fold, and boast of their talent as country music’s own. This is the reason the duo’s been so warmly embraced by The Grand Ole Opry where they perform regularly and probably are on the short list for membership, why the CMAs invited them to perform in November, and why a major Music Row label in UMG Nashville ultimately gobbled them up and are responsible for releasing this new album.
They’ve always been country-influenced for sure, but The War and Treaty are not a typical country duo in sound. You could call it “Americana,” which awarded them Duo of the Year in 2022, but that just feels a little lame. Country soul feels like a default you may assign to any Black artist, and a little patronizing. Iraq war veteran Michael Trotter at one point on the album calls it “country Gospel,” and that feels fitting. This is definitely some version of soul, or perhaps a Gospel sound just with more secular writing. But the country elements in The War and Treaty are undeniable too.
Though well-beloved by elements of the Americana community for years, and the Opry faithful from having proven their prowess in the circle so many times, The War and Treaty has heretofore struggled to find an audience beyond niche programming. The hope was pairing the duo with producer Dave Cobb and exploring all of their influences in a more diverse and robust manner may result in the wider audience The War and Treaty’s talent undeniable deserves by capturing the electricity of what they do live. Lover’s Game just might pull that off.
The album starts off with the braying guitars and upbeat tempo of “Lover’s Game,” which gives the album an immediacy and Southern rock flair to suck you right in. “Ain’t No Harmin’ Me” is one of a host of Gospel entries from the album, but one that is far from preachy, and combines the spirit of blues and Rick Rubin-era Johnny Cash for an enthralling experience. If you want to hear what The War and Treaty are capable of when they let their country influences come to the forefront, get a load of “Yesterday’s Burn”—a song that went viral when they first performed it on the Opry.
One challenge for really all married singing duos is how sometimes songs where they stare lovingly into each other’s eyes and coo affectionately can take on a very sappy, Captain & Tennille vibe if you’re not careful. There are a couple of moments like that on this album, like the falsetto-laden “The Best That I Have” with its mom rock vibes, complete with a Golden Girls reference. Where the first half of the album shows a lot of great energy and diversity in sound, the second half defaults into the duo’s comfort zone, and may challenge the attentiveness of the audience.
What never gives out though, and makes Lover’s Game engaging throughout is the personal nature of the material. This album feels like the lives of Michael and Tanya Trotter set to music. This even includes “Dumb Luck,” which surprisingly is one of the few tracks not written by the duo, but by producer/songwriter Beau Bedford, despite feeling outright autobiographical to them, making references to Opry performances.
And most importantly of course, The War and Treaty is one of those duos that could sing the phone book, and blow the crowd out of their seats. But in this day an age of ever-present singing competitions and Chris Stapleton, this isn’t entirely novel. Marrying their voices with songs that can resonate beyond the enchantment of the performances themselves and appeal to broader parts of the country and roots world is what makes Lover’s Game feel like such an important work.
Country music has always been, and will always be a push and pull of both yearning for purity in the genre, while also wanting to be inviting to a wide sphere of influences and perspectives. The War and Treaty is just the kind of diversity country music needs—one with roots in the genre from the Gospel and blues influences in their sound, respect for country’s origins and institutions, while also instilling a level of talent that is frankly unparalleled by peers, and perfect for proving why being too rigid with genre borders can result in the loss of valuable voices.
No matter what you call them, The War & Treaty belong. And if the rest of the musical world is too busy to invite them into the fold, country music should be more than happy to have them.
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Purchase Lover’s Game
March 13, 2023 @ 8:40 am
: D Love these two!
March 13, 2023 @ 9:30 am
: D Love their, “Yesterday’s Burn.”
Bill from WI
March 13, 2023 @ 7:18 pm
Yeah but Trig went and name-dropped Captain and Tennille so guess what song is stuck in my head now.
March 13, 2023 @ 8:08 pm
: D Well, i would ask, which one, “Muskrat Love” or “Love Will Keep Us Together”?
But Trig has banned me from further comments on this article.
Too bad, because i think Michael and Tanya Trotter are awesome.
In A World Of Salsa,It's Ok To Be Mayonnaise
March 13, 2023 @ 8:41 am
If this were a middle-aged White couple, would the R&B community feel an overwhelming need to prop up their “success”? The self hatred among some in the country music hierarchy is mind boggling.
March 13, 2023 @ 8:52 am
I don’t know, does your hypothetical White R&B couple come with prominent roots influences to the point where they don’t fit well into R&B so they’re not accepted? This was the whole point of “Americana,” to give a home to artists with strong roots influences that don’t fit anywhere else today. R&B in 2023 is just another version of hip-hop. Hell, much of mainstream country is just a version of hip-hop. Go listen to the new Morgan Wallen album that will be #1 on the Country Albums charts for the next 2 1/2 years. Is The War & Treaty any less “country” than Morgan Wallen? I would say no. But what they are is excellent singers and songwriters. I’m not calling The War & Treaty straight down the middle country. Obviously it’s not. What I am saying is I got no problem with them appearing on the Opry, or taking a slot on a major label or an awards show. And no, you don’t need to cite “self hatred” to justify it. You just have to cite their talent.
King Honky Of Crackershire
March 13, 2023 @ 5:13 pm
Why play games? Can’t we acknowledge the reason these folks are being propped up, while simultaneously acknowledging they’re talented? Can’t we acknowledge that they’re talented, and also acknowledge that their talent is a supplement to the primary reason they’re receiving attention? And make no mistake, I wish their talent was the only reason for their success. But you and I both know it isn’t, so why not just say what’s true? You can criticize the zeitgeist the communists have ushered in, without criticizing the innocent people who occasionally benefit from it.
What is there to gain by denying reality? You didn’t actually answer Mr. Mayonnaise’s question. The answer to his question is ‘No’, so why not just say that? Why is your default to dance around this stuff?
By the way, that second clip you posted is gold. It’s countrier than anything on the radio. I loved it.
March 13, 2023 @ 5:57 pm
I’m not playing any games. I acknowledged what you’re asking me to acknowledge in the first paragraph of this review. Do I think there is a racial quotient to why The War and Treaty have been playing the Opry so often, and got signed to a major Music Row record label? I’d say there probably is. But I’d also say that their talent supersedes that quotient, as opposed to being the only reason for the opportunities they’ve received. The Opry has always opened the stage to Gospel acts. And one of the reasons this duo got signed to a label is because they’ve been killing it in the Americana scene for years. They play huge slots at festivals, and as some of the commenters here attest, they’re stellar live. Now they’ve been called up to the big leagues.
You can shake your little balled up fists at corporations and their diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives all you want. The fact of the matter is that it’s part of the landscape today. So if a major label is going to sign a Black artist, I would much rather it be The War and Treaty as opposed to Breland, The Kentucky Gentlemen, Blanco Brown, or whatever other hip-hop castoffs are out there putting out terrible music.
The War and Treaty paid dues, have always voiced their respect for country music and its institutions like the Opry, and I think we can acknowledge that their music isn’t exactly “country,” while also welcoming them into the fold like we have other Gospel and blues acts over the years.
King Honky Of Crackershire
March 13, 2023 @ 9:08 pm
You have a major platform. I would think you would want to use it to criticize anything that threatens Country Music, including DEI, which is a vehicle by which Marxist theory is deployed by corporate HR departments.
Even if you want to be a “music only” guy, who doesn’t concern himself with the fight for Western civilization, I’m pretty sure you agree with me that making decisions about people on the basis of race, is immoral, so why don’t you use your platform to openly attack this practice in Country Music?
To just accept it and basically go, “Welp, at least the singers they’re propping on the basis of race are good.”, is so freaking defeatist.
March 13, 2023 @ 10:12 pm
The War and Treaty have been around for going on a decade. They predate the George Floyd killing and the 1619 project. They play the Grand Ole Opry all the time. You see them on festival lineups, tours, and events everywhere. They’ve been a part of the country/roots community for years. I’ve covered them on this site half a dozen times in the past. The fact that folks are showing up here and going, “Whoa! Why are you covering these Black people?” is more telling of them than it is The War and Treaty. This is clearly a Gospel roots project with country ties that deserves to be covered like any other album. Contorting to try and make this some sort of “woke” thing is pretty rich. They’re Christian Gospel singers who like country music. Enjoy the music. And if you don’t, move on.
King Honky Of Crackershire
March 14, 2023 @ 4:19 pm
These folks are really good, but that’s not really the point. We can enjoy their music, and also fight against the evil system that makes decisions about people based on their race. It will destroy everything good and beautiful if it wins out.
Nobody’s asking you why you’re covering them. You’re usually above that type of strawman argument, so I have to wonder why you did it here. I feel like you’re getting emotional because you’re tired of hearing about a very real problem that you don’t have the stomach to deal with.
Just understand something. As I mentioned, no matter how good this group is, and they are good, they were not given a record deal because of how good they are. And we can be happy to see these folks succeed, because we enjoy their music, while also being willing to fight against this immoral system.
Mr. Mayonnaise is right. An obese, middle-aged, white couple would not receive the attention these folks have, no matter how good they were. I’m saying, let’s fight for a world, and for a Country Music, that makes decisions based solely on talent. Can we agree on that?
March 14, 2023 @ 4:48 pm
” We can enjoy their music, and also fight against the evil system that makes decisions about people based on their race.”
But you’re making an assumption that the opportunities The War and Treaty are receiving have solely or primarily to do with race, when I just don’t know if that’s the case, specially due to the talent they have, and how their music is resonating with the public. Should we make that same assumption about Charley Pride, or is that also insulting to his talent?
“Mr. Mayonnaise is right. An obese, middle-aged, white couple would not receive the attention these folks have, no matter how good they were.”
Man, I strongly disagree. St Paul and the Broken Bones and Nathaniel Rateliff would be two excellent examples of pudgy white dudes singing roots-inspired R&B music, and they receive tons of praise. Nathaniel Rateliff is a big headline-level act. I rarely if every talk about these guys here, because if I want to hear country-adjacent R&B music, I’ll go directly to the source, like The War and Treaty.
King Honky Of Crackershire
March 15, 2023 @ 3:49 pm
….”But you’re making an assumption that the opportunities The War and Treaty are receiving have solely or primarily to do with race, when I just don’t know if that’s the case,”….
Did you not acknowledge that DEI was at play here, both in the article, and in your first reply to me, or am I misunderstanding you?
….”Should we make that same assumption about Charley Pride, or is that also insulting to his talent?”……
This is strange comparison. I’m not sure whether or not you’re being sincere. Charley Pride actually had to ride his talent to fame, in spite of an industry that, at the time, was likely not fully welcoming to him. DEI, as you are fully aware, did not exist in the 60’s. Seriously, why would you make this obviously false equivalency?
March 14, 2023 @ 1:33 am
For folks who may be confused, this is racism. Diminishing any and every black accomplishment as a function of ‘diversity’ or pandering when the reality is this duo is more country, better produced, and more vocally talented than the vast majority of country music we see today. But some people can’t hear that, because they’ve decided to listen with their eyes and not their ears. This is a very good album by a very good band.
Has the commentor even listened to the record? We don’t know, because they decided to foreground skin color instead of songs.
King Honky Of Crackershire
March 14, 2023 @ 4:32 pm
For folks who may be confused, Sasha has mistaken me for someone who cares about her silly race games. I care as much about Sasha’s silly race games as I care about Sasha…which is significantly less than I care about rodents.
March 14, 2023 @ 5:05 pm
Everyone already knows Honky is completely devoid of empathy or understanding for black people. It’s important to challenge these things when they come about so others can see not only how thin these arguments are, but the character of the people who make them. Hateful, unkind people seeking to destroy talent because it looks a bit different.
“no matter how good they are” So music doesn’t matter in country music? That says everything.
March 14, 2023 @ 6:57 pm
Know who i love, Honky?
Tab Benoit & his work for the Delta.
GOD Bless his Mom, Evelyn, brother Tyron, & entire family, ESPECIALLY for carrying on in catastrophic circumstances, when they had to look after the livelihoods of over 150 employees who worked at the Benoit Machine works.
Reminds me of the Malden Mills story.
My parents, grandparents, & family.
So many people.
And you, Honky, because GOD has commanded that we love each other.
Acquaint, or reacquaint yourself with the many wonderful & talented people who brought music into our homes, week after week.
Oh, and Wolfman Jack …
I Thank GOD for the wonderful family he gave me to
March 13, 2023 @ 9:30 am
You can just say you’re racist and don’t like Black folks succeeding without weird hypotheticals.
Wilson Pick It
March 13, 2023 @ 9:37 am
Just look at the username. That pretty much says it all. I don’t think I’m reading into it too much. There’s actually a couple of usernames in these comment sections that I find suspect. Dog whistle vibes.
March 13, 2023 @ 9:43 am
March 13, 2023 @ 1:48 pm
That’s pretty racist, Di. Two wrongs do not make a right.
March 13, 2023 @ 2:01 pm
: D Not racist.
March 13, 2023 @ 2:13 pm
How so? Because “you can’t be racist towards white people”? That’s empirically untrue.
March 13, 2023 @ 2:45 pm
You can try to start a fight over this, but you will only be arguing with yourself.
: D Not racist.
What’s the big deal?
March 13, 2023 @ 2:48 pm
Final comment on this thread.
Jimmy the Black
March 24, 2023 @ 9:17 pm
It’s funny how woke types keep this absolutely about race rather than the elephant in the room. It’s like with college, student loans and business loans… all over the place people (Whites, Asians, Muslims) have to keep pretending to be black to get into universities, get special treatment like extra points on civil service exams and the like.
Stop ignoring it. I am a black man who loves The War and Treaty and a lot of other acts, but I also see what is happening from the woke left and I can tell it is doing little more than disenfranchising people and causing an even greater rift in this country. The divide is great and wide and it’s because you literally have to be black to get ahead.
Personally, I have used my skin color to get privilege that whites can only dream about. I have seen my people in stores stealing in plain sight while everyone (white folks) around us just stared and watched, never calling the police because it might be labeled a hate crime.
The Honky is right, no matter how much y’all want to denigrate, ad hominem attack and cry about it.
As a black man, I see this doing little more than reflecting poorly on my people and rightfully so because TWO WRONGS NEVER MAKE A RIGHT.
March 13, 2023 @ 10:13 am
Look up Captain and Tennile on youtube and see if that doesn’t make you racist against white people like the average MSNBC anchor.
March 13, 2023 @ 2:13 pm
This is such a strange comment. You seriously can’t recognize the obvious talent without being a snowflake? I’m as annoyed with woke bs as anyone, but this ain’t it. It sucks to see how many people have “liked” such a bizarre take.
March 14, 2023 @ 1:01 am
Their success has nothing to do with their colour or their age. They have the talent and they have to be one of the hardest working most entertaining acts around. They deserve their success. They are just great!
March 14, 2023 @ 5:39 pm
What an insane comment. Nowhere was race mentioned in this article with the exception of saying Trig saying “it’s not quite country soul” (paraphrasing).
Funny how the ones who always say “leave race out of it” are the first ones to inject it into conversation. Give me a break.
March 13, 2023 @ 8:42 am
I got to see them at Outlaw Fest last year with Crockett, Z-Bry, ZZ Top, and Willie. Fun stuff.
March 13, 2023 @ 9:51 am
You must have been at the crazy, unhinged Buffalo show? Regretfully, we came from out of town and didn’t get there in time for War & Treaty.
March 13, 2023 @ 11:01 am
No, sir. It was the Bethel Woods show.
March 13, 2023 @ 8:49 am
Part of the gripe all along has been that mainstream country music was poor in quality, not just sonically distant. Good quality music that isn’t exactly pure country is fine by me. This isn’t pure country, but it’s damn good. And that’s a step in the right direction.
March 13, 2023 @ 8:50 am
My wife and I were lucky enough to see this duo on their UK tour last year. They were simply superb. I have seen many great shows but they were up amongst the best. I bought a couple of their albums and very impressed. 2 very nice people. Very talented and this is another great CD. The review is a fair one. Their immense talent deserves success. If anyone has the chance to see them, do not miss it! If you can’t see them, buy their album! They are wonderful.
March 13, 2023 @ 9:09 am
Saw them at Railbird in 2021 and the energy they had was great. The crowd drifted toward them and as good as they sound on recordings, it’s even better in person. I highly recommend checking them out live!
Wilson Pick It
March 13, 2023 @ 9:18 am
You can drive yourself crazy trying to determine how to categorize a bunch of songs.
The problem is that there are different ways to “do” genres. You can go by the way it sounds, you can go by what the music is for (dancing, worshipping at a church, drinking at a bar), or you can go by who the music is marketed to.
I don’t think War & Treaty sounds particularly country, however you define it, but if it’s good music I’m not going to care too much. I do think they are good, it’s just not exactly my cup of tea.
March 13, 2023 @ 10:00 am
They sound good, and they do not sound like they are exploiting the genre.
March 13, 2023 @ 11:09 am
“Lovers Game” sounded real good, while “Yesterday’s Burn” made me suicidal. I guess I am 50/50 until I listen to more.
March 13, 2023 @ 11:47 am
This music is frickin awesome. Actually sounds quite country to me on many songs. The truth is a lot of these, especially yesterdays burn, sound like something like Chris Stapleton would sing. And guess what-Chris has a ton of soul influence. And guess what-Waylon did too. And more power to all of them
Bill from WI
March 13, 2023 @ 3:53 pm
I think Michael threw in a little Stapleton lick there on purpose, from the look on his face! The whole Yesterday’s Burn video was fun, even the mandolin player was in on it.
March 13, 2023 @ 1:55 pm
Hey Trigger I just wonder why you don’t review more non-American country music artists? I recently listened to Jamie McDell’s last album & really enjoyed it. Was more authentic in it’s feel then what a lot of other artists her age put out.
March 13, 2023 @ 2:03 pm
I’ve featured a ton of non-American artists over the years. I’d like to think it’s something that I specialize in compared to other American-based outlets. I’ve featured artists from Sweden, Germany, Norway, Georgia, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and other places. I love highlighting cool country artists from other places. I’m listening to the new H. Self album out of Sweden at the moment. I was not aware of Jamie McDell and since her album is over a year old, it would be hard to feature it now. But I try to feature international artists all the time. The bigger issue right now is with so many albums coming out, I’m just not going to be able to feature everything.
Bill from WI
March 13, 2023 @ 3:57 pm
Because he needs to sleep once in awhile lol! I do have The Country Side Of Harmonica Sam in regular rotation because of one of Trigger’s reviews.
March 13, 2023 @ 6:50 pm
Trig, just wanted to say thanks for all the great work that you do to help expose great music to a broader audience. I stumbled upon the site a few years ago when I was trying to broaden my country music listening, and I’ve found so many awesome artists that I love just because you give them a small platform.
Based on what I’ve heard here, I need to do a deeper dive on The War & Treaty!
March 13, 2023 @ 7:37 pm
Thanks for reading.
March 14, 2023 @ 3:52 am
Didn’t really like their last album, something sounded off compared to their live sound, but this one is pure fire! Exactly the kind of (country-infused) R&B i crave! Got a strong Ike&Tina vibe since the cover.
March 14, 2023 @ 5:18 pm
Oh, for Pete’s sake …
While people are going on about race, sending a love letter to Tanya & Michael.
: D Tanya & Michael,
Thank you for bringing us music.
Thank you for loving each other.
Tanya, Thank you for asking Michael for, FIVE MORE MINUTES.
Thank you for being a strong & loving woman.
Michael, Thank you for serving y(our) country.
: D Never forget – you gave your CO some bright moments when that piano was uncovered in the rubble.
Those magical, musical moments.
Sending ❤️ to both you & Tanya.
Di, 101st Airborne, Ft. Campbell, KY.
Lajes Field, Azores
March 14, 2023 @ 8:32 pm
I saw War & Treaty at Hogs for the Cause in 2019 in New Orleans. Following their set, Tanya came out into the audience speak with a few people, and to give hugs to a couple of children she seemed to know. I waited a few minutes before asking her to sign a festival poster. She was super friendly.
March 15, 2023 @ 6:25 am
War and Treaty has been one of those groups you hear about and check out, but I just never really got in to. Not a critique of their talent, but there style and the dual lead vocals just didn’t appeal to me other than a song or to. I think Cobb does a great job here bringing out a fuller and more identifiable sound here. This album has a nice sort of Muscle Shoals type of southern gospel soul feel to it. While the dual vocals still aren’t my thing, I found myself enjoying this album more than any of their previous releases.
March 17, 2023 @ 7:58 pm
Yesterdays Burn helluva song..
March 17, 2023 @ 10:32 pm
Just got back from Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion. The War and Treaty were the best act I saw. “Yesterday’s Burn” was epic.
March 18, 2023 @ 8:04 am
March 18, 2023 @ 6:34 pm
This is the first album I am buying from an artist that I have not heard of in a long long time.
I am digging this