Album Review – The War and Treaty’s “Lover’s Game”

photo: Greg Homolka

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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