The War And Treaty's 'Healing Tide' Bares A Powerful Testimony
Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.
It's not surprising that The War and Treaty, a married duo comprised of Michael and Tanya Trotter, have received comparisons to Ike and Tina Turner. There are a couple of hard-charging, rock and soul originals on the Trotter's upcoming album, Healing Tide, that recall the dueling vigor of the music the Turners made together. But while Tina Turner's revelations have made us hear the volatility of her relationship with Ike in the musical heat they generated, the Trotters' songs "All I Wanna Do" and "Healing Tide" convey an ecstatic, empowering sense of partnership that serves as the duo's creative engine and core message.
Even though The War and Treaty is still a rising act in the Americana field, and seemed to arrive on the national scene almost out of nowhere just a couple of years back, the Trotters are hardly neophytes. Separately and together, they've tried on numerous stylistic identities and artistic approaches. Long before she met Michael, Tanya (nee Blount) dueted with Lauryn Hill in Sister Act 2 and recorded sultry, mid-'90s R&B slow jams in a Toni Braxton vein. Michael sang in church, and during a tour of duty in Iraq, was dealt the singular sacred duty of paying tribute to fallen comrades in song, before striking out as a smoothly seductive R&B singer-songwriter, citing influences like Gerald Levert and Tyrese. After teaming up in life and music, the pair dabbled in sleek soul updates under their combined surnames. But they also drew inspiration from voices embraced as touchstones across generations and genres — Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash and Nina Simone among them — and ultimately settled into a rootsy aesthetic animated by the range of their musical experiences.
No doubt aware of the array of different performing personalities projected by coed teams before them — not only the Turners, but Johnny and June, Ashford & Simpson, Buddy and Julie Miller, the Civil Wars — the Trotters put a good deal of thought into their own dynamic. Asked by an interviewer about whether they considered keeping their personal relationship out of their public persona, Michael responded, "Once you try and contain it, you start to try to hold the reigns. That's frustrating to a free spirit. We feel that type of freedom heals the world and gives people hope." In the War and Treaty's official bio, Tanya explains why it's important to present themselves as embodying their lived partnership: "We allow people to see two people that are not perfect. We get on stage. We sweat. We're overweight. We yell. We get ugly, we scream! My hair comes loose. We're vulnerable — naked — in front of people, and it's a chain reaction. It allows them to be vulnerable, too."
Both Tanya and Michael take turns venturing out on emotional limbs on Healing Tide, produced with the sympathetic touch of Buddy Miller. Voicing needs and longings in a tone simultaneously ardent and tentative, they make the risks of mutuality felt. In "Are You Ready To Love Me," a strutting country-soul number laced with horns and pedal steel, she pleads for physical affection and promises eager attentiveness as a lover, building to her insistent delivery of the question posed in the title. He sings the first half of "If It's In Your Heart" as though he's summoning the courage to press his lover for honesty and find out whether or not the intensity of her devotion equals his own.
During the loping string band number "Here Is Where the Loving Is At," which features harmonies from Emmylou Harris, the Trotters paint a picture of lasting partnership as an earthy, effortful endeavor. "Just hold me to the words I say," Tanya implores, attacking the start of the next line with a teasingly determined growl. "And don't go looking somewhere else instead." Throughout "Hearts," a gospelly piano ballad in 6/8 time, the couple swap grand declarations of the bleakness they'd face without each other's company. They turn fierce when they declare their shared conviction during the bridge: "We've got a reason to keep our love growing strong / Everything between us helps us move along." Then their belting softens into an intimate murmur of shared belief: "We'd find each other's hearts."
The Trotters exult in sensual heat during "Jeep Cherokee Laredo," with its sly, New Orleans-style syncopation and burbling organ. "You keep on peeking through the foggy windows / Please disregard all sly innuendo," they playfully scold a would-be busybody, flaunting the pleasure of the mischief shared between the two of them. The lyrics, penned by Michael (the author of all their material, who often describes his writing's autobiographical inspiration) have a big-talking punch equally connected to hip-hop and the blues. "Ain't none of your business what we doing in the back of our J-E-E-P Cherokee Laredo," they crow.
The ardor that the Trotters bring to the a capella number "Love Like There's No Tomorrow" is at once particular and sweeping. "Sing, baby," Michael encourages. Then Tanya launches into a series of declarations: "We're gonna love, love, love / Love for my brother / Love for my sister / Love past the color." Michael echoes the last word of each line in agreement. Then the two of them harmonize in full voice: "Love for the nations / Love on every occasion." They seem to pass the emotional strain of the commitment back and forth, before finally matching each other's exertion. He kicks off a new phrase, "We gon'." She joins him in unison, "Like there's no." And on the final word, "tomorrow," he tumbles through a vocal run, she rounds her vibrato from a bright, brassy oh into a gentler ooh, and they meet in the middle, bearing powerful testimony.
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.