The title of The War and Treaty’s new album is just right, for the husband-and-wife team of Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Blount-Trotter explore the ragged ways that we live in our hearts: the devastating ways that hearts break, the tentative ways we express ourselves and our love to others, the anguish and the joy that grows from wearing our hearts on our sleeves, or the ways we hide our hearts to protect ourselves from being hurt by others, perhaps even because someone has already betrayed our trust by breaking a heart-felt promise. Like all great jazz and soul singers, Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Blount-Trotter dwell in their songs, inhabiting every measure and phrase, elevating the music and transforming us as they express tenderness, pain, or joy in their vocals.
Shattering cacophonous guitars of the opening song, “Yearning,” pave the way for Michael’s quiet opening vocals. The minor chord verses build quickly to a fever pitch rising on the duo’s soaring harmonies and Max Brown’s electrifying lead guitar licks. Just before Brown’s guitar carries us off on the instrumental bridge, Michael carries us into the stratosphere by hitting what seems an impossibly high note. By the time we get to the end of the opening song, we’re transformed already and wonder whether the duo can take us any higher. Of course they do, and every song on the album showcases the ways that the duo wraps their warm and tender vocals around each other, one singer responding naturally to the other as if in a passionate embrace. “Five Minutes” rides along an Al Green groove, as the duo’s vocals float above a wave of horns to plead with each other to stick around a little longer to make their love that much sweeter. The War and Treaty evoke the best of the soul duos of the ‘60s, such as Ashford and Simpson, or even Marvin and Tammi. The title track opens with soft piano chords as it blossoms into a soulful ballad about the caution with we approach love because of our past brokenness. As the song evolves, it builds momentum, rushing to a climax in which the lovers affirm each other and welcome each other joyously into each other’s “heart’s town.” “Hey Pretty Moon” languidly develops as a jazz lounge blues vamp, and it’s the duo’s sweltering vocals—especially Tanya’s—that scorch us with their torrid flames. “Jealousy” rides along a Chicago soul funkiness, while the album’s closing track, the gospel-inflected “Take Me In,” shimmers in its hope and love for a future where we’ll open out hearts so that we can embrace our differences and love all those around us, no matter how much we might disagree with them. As the duo reminds us, our “heart’s town” can open its borders not only to our lovers but also to those unlike us whom we might never consider taking into our hearts.
Hearts Town brims over with
unbridled passion and torrid energy, never letting up, but spiraling higher and higher with a soul-searing musical power. The songs lift us from the album’s opening note, inspiring, enlivening, delighting, challenging us, and eventually transporting us and leaving us with the fervent desire to play the record over and over. Hearts Town is one of this year’s best albums.
Hearts Town is available HERE.