By all accounts, this album might just provide the overdue breakthrough for this Michigan-based duo. The War & Treaty are one of those acts that have been beloved by the country music community for years now – particularly, by the Grand Ole Opry – but also provide an example of a career that’s slowly set is wheels in motions. No doubt that both Michael and Tanya Trotter are incredible vocalists both solo and especially together, but their early albums did seem to lack the refinement and robust polish needed to truly unlock and showcase their fullest potential.
Of course, that’s just on record, and considering they’ve since signed to UMG Nashville and recruited Dave Cobb to produce their major label debut, this could be the deserved commercial and critical breakthrough they deserve. And thankfully, Lover’s Game is indeed their most punchy and wonderfully varied set of tunes to date, putting to work the country-gospel underbelly that’s provided the core of their writing and sound with phenomenal performances and well-rounded production across the board. While I do have some nitpicks over various tropes that have carried over from previous projects, this is easily a great listen.
Granted, it really is an easy project to describe, but the devil is in the finer details, namely in how Michael Trotter can easily play to country crooner territory off the excellent slow-burn of “Yesterday’s Burn” or “That’s How Love is Made,” or flip the script to play the wily, rambunctious hellraiser through the title track. Not to say this album is necessarily playing much toward the latter territory, however. If anything, it’s a healthy palette of rich-as-hell pop-country and R&B courtesy of well-developed instrumental textures, where the real weapons of choice come through in the softer touches of piano and organ to lend this album’s gospel backbone, albeit in a more secular sense. It’s an album where any sense of deeper drama or details can feel slight in favor of being a more lighthearted, thankful experience, finding peace and solitude in each other and in a higher power.
And that mostly works, even if, like with most married duos, the actual topics themselves never stray far from settled relationship songs. And given that the opening title track is an absolute southern-rock firestorm that never once lets up in its intensity as our character struggles to find a long-lost lover, I certainly would have loved more moments in that vein to showcase their vocal muscle further; this is an album that can run together in composition and tempo after a while. But between the often old-school, plainspoken maturity that comes through in both of their deliveries and in the writing, along with the natural warmth that bleeds through in the instrumentation and production, it’s an easy album to get sucked into regardless – even off more than just sheer talent.
And while, like with most duos, I’m tempted to say I would have loved more individual camaraderie here between our two vocalists, considering that they’re always (and I mean always) working in tandem here, that might disrupt the true magic of these performances anyway. There really is just a warm, magnetic charm to this album, whether it’s in the roiling flair of the title track I do so love, or through the gentle insights into healing past traumas from old flames on songs like “Blank Page” and “Yesterday’s Burn.”
It’s why, again, I love the plainspoken maturity that comes through in the writing and makes it feel devoid of cloying platitudes, like how they attribute their good fortune together to just, well, “Dumb Luck,” on that aptly titled track – making it feel more natural and real – or how the graceful fidelity evident in “Up Yonder” carries a lot of weight to it in staying together forever, regardless of what awaits after death. Not to say they don’t sometimes cross that line, though: “Angel” is pretty clichéd throughout with its titular metaphor – particularly in mainstream country over the past few years – and they can can tend to default a bit too much toward comfortable, sleepy sentiments here and there on “That’s How Love Is Made” and “The Best That I Have.” Even still, this is a robust listen that’s just so charming throughout, taking the foundation of what’s made the War & Treaty sound compelling on their own and translating it excellently on record. It’s a great listen that deserves the attention.
- Favorite tracks: “Lover’s Game,” “Blank Page,” “Ain’t No Harmin’ Me,” “Yesterday’s Burn,” “Dumb Luck,” “Up Yonder”
- Least favorite track: “Angel”