The War & Treaty "Down To The River" A Sight To Behold

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Michael Trotter, Jr. And Tanya Blount, the duo known as The War and Treaty, live in Michigan, but their powerful duo vocalizing sounds like it stretches across the entire United States. In songs about personal turmoil and the dread at the end of time, every kind of fear and joy is addressed through gut-stirring and feet-moving anthems like “Hit Dawg Will Holla,” “Set My Soul On Fire,” and the title track. Yet the two can sensually help heal the wounds from those confessional blasts with a sweet ballad like “Till The Mornin’” — they truly live up to the dynamic tension of their moniker. 

But the infectious vocal melodies and shouts and ferocious lines of rhythm running through their debut Down To The River aren’t just about genre. This is not about blues as tradition, or gospel as ritual. Trotter, Jr. and Blount sound like they have seriously survived some serious trouble to serenade each other against the devil in unison in the chorus of “You can’t hold me down” from the mesmerizing, driving “Florida.” 

Trotter, Jr. was a soldier who found a black upright piano in the scorched-out bunker of Hussein while stationed in Iraq; a burden was placed in his heart to create music like this, confronting every evil and rhapsodizing about long-held-off freedoms in this world. His powerful voice got into the media through broadcast talent shows in service to the military; it almost redeemed the loneliness and suffering of being stationed away from all he loved.

Then he met Tanya Blount, a woman he fell crazily in absolute adoration with, and her voice which could bring Sister Rosetta Tharpe back to bang out a rockin’ gospel stormer. Now married, their Johhny Cash and June Carter Cash romantic entwining of vocals, matched with the musicians who helped them create Down By The River, makes the album sound like prime material to bring the Apollo down in its prime. 

Both seem to have been holding back plenty of passion and pain in their lives previous to knowing each other, and it’s this kind of expressive blues and soul and folk and gospel that truly connects to every listener who may desperately need it. This seems more like a gem of a reissue from an apex era for these genres than another new album by those who fetishize second-hand roots bands. This is the real deal, like the best BBQ found in the most popular pit outside the smallest town in the South. It’s an absolute blast to hear them create and play with each other, every song seeming like a reason to party and praise.

“Hi Ho” is the break out soul hit and punches through the night to great pleasure and happiness. It’s a tantalizing introduction to a splendidly made immediate classic about conflict and redemption; and don’t dare miss them live, where these songs will indeed “Set your soul on fire,” in the chorus of what feels like the slow, sure masterpiece of this blazing, blessed release. 

 -Chris Estey