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Union in song: The War and Treaty’s marriage of music and life

by Whitney Youngs

When thinking of married music duos, who comes to mind? John and Yoko? Ike and Tina? Johnny and June? Sonny and Cher? Before becoming defunct for one reason or another, it

seems life’s joys and sorrows shaped not only a marriage but the music associated with it.

Every marriage has its highs and lows, even for Nashville singer-songwriter darlings Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Blount-Trotter, whose lives converged in 2010 in Maryland. Michael and Tanya were just a couple of solo artists, both living in Washington D.C., who happened to be performing at the Spirit of Love festival. The couple, now based in Albion, Michigan, subsequently got together to collaborate and eventually fell in love and married. They formed the duo Trotter & Blount in 2014, but later changed the name to The War And Treaty. In the past few years, The War And Treaty has toured with Al Green and Van Morrison and shared the stage with Elvis Costello and Brandi Carlile.

“When we got together, we both were divorced, so we had to make that decision to wake up every day and say to each other, ‘I’m going to love you,’ instead of just holding onto that old hurt,” explains Michael about the couple confronting and healing from past relationships.

In its first four years, The War And Treaty wrote enough songs to record back-to-back albums: its debut Down to the River (2017) and Healing Tide (2018). The latter made it onto Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “40 Best Country and Americana Albums of 2018.”

The duo ultimately inked a deal with the Nashville-based indie record company Rounder Records, putting out its label debut Hearts Town amid the pandemic in 2020. Featuring recording personnel that includes guitarists Jason Isbell, formerly of the Drive-By Truckers, Jerry Douglas, and Chris Eldrige of the Punch Brothers, Hearts Town was produced by The War And Treaty with its longtime guitarist Max Brown.

The duo’s vocals on the ballad, “Hey Pretty Moon,” are reminiscent of duets between Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. The title song arose from one martial low, in particular, when in 2017, Michael, weary from the PTSD he acquired during the Iraq War, nearly ended his life. Michael grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and moved to D.C. as a teenager. At the age of 21, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and ended up stationed at one of Sadaam Hussein’s palaces, where he found a piano and played and sang for his fellow soldiers.

“Writing that song, I was thinking about all the times I was dealing with my PTSD and my depression and thought I was all alone, and how calming it is now just to know that Tanya’s there beside me,” he says.

Hearts Town expands upon the Americana textures of Healing Tide while showcasing the full range of the duo’s sound, a sound steeped in American Roots music that plots musical points in the blues (“Lonely in My Grief”), gospel, country (“Jubilee”), rock ‘n’ roll (“Jealousy”) and rhythm and blues. Some of the songs are so divergent that one like “Take Me In” might find its way into Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry while another like “Liquid Lies” might end up at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City.

“Right now a lot of people are feeling so deeply engulfed in pain and surrounded by negativity, and sometimes you just need to hear that you’re good,” says Tanya. “That’s the whole idea behind Hearts Town: no one’s trying to change what you think or how you talk or anything else about you. You’re just fine the way you are.”

The War And Treaty play BeachLife Ranch September 18.


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