We here at Austin City Limits were so blown away by the performance of The War And Treaty on ACL Presents: Americana 18th Annual Honors last year that we knew we had to feature them for a full set on the show. Basing the set around their acclaimed new LP Hearts Town, the Michigan-bred husband-and-wife duo of Michael and Tanya Trotter did not disappoint, hitting real heights with their earthy, rock-infused soul.
Backed by an eight piece band and set up on stage so they could look at each other at any time, the Trotters kicked off the show with the jazzy groove of “Yearning,” as much a seduction as a plea. The tempo revved up for the rocking “Jealousy,” as the pair acknowledged the titular emotion, before kicking it out the door. The Trotters deftly altered the mood with “Liquid Lies,” which started as a sultry simmer before going into a full-tilt boil. “We’re here to sing to you, America,” stated Michael. “We’re here to sing not just to Austin, but we’re here as representation of what thriving and overcomers look like. So let’s give ourselves a hand.” Then they went into the dramatic “Beautiful,” a tune from Hearts Town recorded with Americana star and ACL two-timer Jason Isbell, subbed for here by W&T back-up singer Will Merrill during the song’s round robin vocals. The band then got funky with “Maryland,” a frisky tribute to the state from which Tanya hails with a round of solos from guitarist Matt Laurence, keyboardist Brett Sandler, trumpeter Joe Jordan and saxophonist Chuck Mullican.
The party definitely needed a cool down after that performance, so the band reached back to its debut EP Down to the River for the ballad “Til the Morning.” Of course, “cool down” is a relative term for this group, as the fire definitely burned in the couple’s impassioned singing. Bassist Max Brown then picked up an acoustic guitar for the folky “Jubilee,” dedicated to Anne Wade, a high school-age singer/songwriter the Trotters are mentoring. The group shifted to old school R&B for “Hey Pretty Moon,” a gorgeous tune inspired by Ray Charles. After that powerhouse, it was time to raise the roof once again, which they did with the jazzy, New Orleans-flavored “Little Boy Blue,” as much a showcase for Mullican and Jordan as the singers. Michael then led the band into the clever pop of “Hustlin’,” “which is what we’re doing now.” TW&T then launched into the title track of their new album, the truly heartwarming “Hearts Town.”
The band dipped into a Stax/Volt groove for “Five More Minutes,” a song inspired by the PTSD U.S. Army veteran Michael brought back from his two tours in Iraq that’s scoring radio play here in Austin, and no wonder: it’s a perfect blend of melody and groove. Michael then asked the audience, both in person and at home, for a moment of silence for everyone lost in 2020, due to the pandemic or otherwise. In particular, TW&T wanted to pay tribute to the late John Prine, a friend and mentor who showcased the band at his Grand Ole Opry appearance. It was the perfect lead-in to “Take Me In,” the band’s beautiful ballad of inclusion and unity. The band ended the song by leaning into their gospel side, running through “Amazing Grace” and “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.” The show closed with the fiery “Need Someone to Love,” a sweeping climax that embraced the crowd, the crew, the streaming audience and the whole world with its message of love. It was a fantastic way to end the night, and we can’t wait for you to see it when The War And Treaty’s episode airs early next year as part of our Season 46 on your local PBS station.