It takes a lot for Michael Trotter not to be heard. But on this summer afternoon during a brief family vacation, the atomic-voiced singer from The War and Treaty may have met his match – Niagara Falls. As he speaks by phone, the winds and waterfall challenge his attempts at conversation, the tone of which is decidedly mild-mannered when compared the booming vocals he summons with wife Tanya on the duo’s 2018 debut album “Healing Tide.”
Take the record’s leadoff tune, “Love Like There’s No Tomorrow.” It starts as a chant of sorts with the Trotters’ harmonies rising with gospel-esque fervor. Aside from the occasional foot stomp and a lone tambourine serving as a rhythm section, all you hear are two voices transfixed on each other with zero sense of inhibition.
“We’ve tried to rehearse it,” said Michael, who will perform with The War and Treaty at the Master Musicians Festival in Somerset. “But we’ve come to realize some things can’t be rehearsed. The connection I have with my wife and the love I feel ... I mean, that’s the best way to answer it.”
Despite the harmonious – indivisible, almost – vocals they create, the Trotters came to The War and Treaty from decidedly different musical worlds. Tanya was an established recording artist and actress. She combined both talents in a duet version of the gospel standard “His Eye is on the Sparrow” with Lauryn Hill for the 1993 film “Sister Act 2.”
Michael traveled a more unexpected path. While serving in Iraq during the early 2000s, his musical talents were recognized when he penned a song for the memorial service of his captain who had been killed by an IED. As a result, Trotter was asked by his commanding officers to write songs for fallen soldiers for the rest of his deployment.
“It made me a better person,” Trotter said of his distinctive military duty. “It prepared me to understand my role in life, to be able to serve my fellow man. It taught me trust.
“I believe everybody has their duty that they’re called to do. This was just mine. It’s not that was it more important than anyone else’s. It just belonged to me, just as Tanya’s belongs to Tanya and yours belong to you. That’s what makes the whole world such an awesome place. We all have our place in the composition of life.”
Now with Tonya as his partner in music and life, Michael sees The War and Treaty as a canvas of optimism, a platform for folk, gospel, soul and assorted roots and Americana accents that build around the couple’s often volcanic singing. When one listens to “Healing Tide,” it’s easy to picture the Trotters viewing the art of singing as a form of pure, emotive release – one that is as therapeutic for them and it is enchanting for their audience.
“I’ll tell you what I’ve learned. Music, for me, isn’t therapeutic unless Tanya likes it. The one woman, the one person in this world whose approval I seek most, is her. That’s what’s beautiful about our music. That’s what’s unique about it.”
Assisting in the presentation of this personal, spiritual and artistic expression was Buddy Miller, who served as producer for “Healing Tide.” Miller has become one of Americana music’s most honored journeymen over the past two decades, from touring/recording alliances with such famed cohorts as Emmylou Harris, Robert Plant and Patty Griffin to album production for such disparate artists as Richard Thompson, the Carolina Chocolate Drops and the Wood Brothers.
“Buddy is so humble,” Michael said. “He would not take any credit for anything, but Buddy gave us the confidence we needed to do certain songs, to understand who we are as artists. He’s become our friend. He’s become our mentor. Buddy could never do another record for us and the connection would still grow strong. It’s bigger than music with him.”
Nothing, however, seems bigger than the relationship Michael and Tanya maintain with each other. It may fuel the sheer vocal stamina of The War and Treaty. But at heart, no pun intended, it comes down to a simple but devout love story between husband and wife.
“We can’t stop being around each other,” Michael said. “We love to work together. We love being in each other’s presence. We just really like each other. That’s the main thing. We have fun. What we do together with this music is so much fun.”
If you go: The War and Treaty
When: 7:30 p.m. July 20 for the Master Musicians Festival
Where: Festival Field of Somerset Community College, 808 Monticello St. in Somerset
Performance schedule for this year’s Master Musicians Festival
4 p.m.: Spooky Fox
5:30 p.m.: Nicholas Jamerson
7 p.m.: The Tillers
8:30 p.m.: Charley Crockett
10 p.m.: Cedric Burnside
Eastwood Records Stage
5 p.m.: Senora May
6:30 p.m.: Blind Corn Liquor Pickers
8 p.m.: Jericho Woods
11:45 a.m.: Eric Bolander, John Clay, Tim DeLonjay, Darrin Hacquard, Tim Lancaster
1:30 p.m.: The Handshake Deals
3 p.m.: Mama Said String Band
4:30 p.m.: The Josephines
6 p.m.: Lost Dog Street Band
7:30 p.m.: The War and Treaty
9:15 p.m.: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Eastwood Records Stage
1 p.m.: Lylak
2:30 p.m.: Abby Hamilton, Jen Tackett and Wonky Tonk
4 p.m. Kevin Dalton and the Tuesday Blooms
5:30 p.m.: The Baja Yetis
7 p.m.: Laid Back Country Picker
8:30 p.m.: Johnny Conqueroo
1:15 p.m.: Chris and Jenn Shouse
2:45 p.m.: The Winetree
4:15 p.m.: Pearlie Jenkins
5:45 p.m.: Sean Whiting
7:15 p.m.: Chelsea Noland and Josh Nolan