Friday, July 17, 2009

A SIP OF BLUE MERLOT


Although the Sewanee Writers Conference is in full swing right now, and we’re getting our annual fix of readings from noted authors and poets, yesterday we took time out for a visit with Joshua (Bubba) Murrell and Brenda Lowry. This duet, sometimes billed as B&B On the Rock and sometimes as Blue Merlot, are creative artists in the music field and perform in two music realms – Gospel and Blues/Jazz. They make an annual pilgrimage to Nashville to attend a show of music equipment and, on the way, veer off route to visit with us at Sewanee.

Bubba and Brenda live in New Iberia, Louisiana and have been performing together for at least ten years. Bubba composes on the piano and performs on guitar, slide guitar, bass, and what he calls “funky/skanky” organ. He was awarded a Grammy for engineering and producing music, and Brenda is the vocalist with Blue Merlot who can belt out a mean “Memphis Blues,” and “Rock My Baby Jesus” (the latter for which she wrote music and lyrics). They’ve won an award as “The Best Blues Band in Acadiana” (2008) and achieved top honors in the Louisiana Blues Challenge in 2002.

Although I love to hear this talented duet perform, I particularly enjoy watching them give rein to the play impulse when they’re talking non-stop. Often, when they’re sitting, talking in our living room here at Sewanee or in New Iberia, one of them will suddenly say a phrase that could lend itself to musical lyrics and toss it to the other who responds in a split second to the word play. Usually, they discard the word play as just that – word play – but sometimes the phrase becomes part of a song that they later perform. Their latest CD with a Blue Merlot label centers on Hurricane Katrina and the devastating effects of that storm. Blue Merlot performs what Brenda and Bubba have labeled “Gumbo Funk” – a combination of music styles in songs like “Blue Tarp City,” “Wall of Water,” and “Floating Around New Orleans.”

Brenda represents Luna Guitars (an all-female guitar company), writes the lyrics for many of the duet’s songs, plays 12-string guitar, and is the main vocalist for Women at the Well and Blue Merlot. Bubba received his Grammy in 2008 for his work on Terrance Semien’s Live! Worldwide CD in the Best Zydeco or Cajun Album category. Both Brenda and Bubba perform with the Sweet Tones, B&B on the Rock, and the South Louisiana Blues Revue.

For several years, Bubba and Brenda had a studio in the apartment attached to my carport in New Iberia, Louisiana and did a lot of composing/recording there before they began to garner awards for their bayou blues and Gospel renditions. Oddly enough, their studio was so well-insulated, I never experienced music “booms” in my home next door to them. On several occasions, I brought them along as the performing musicians at retreats I directed in Pineville, Louisiana and Memphis, Tennessee, and in addition to their “noodling” in the background while I delivered meditations, their renditions of Gospel songs were especially inspiring.

Bubba and Brenda label their music “distinctly Louisiana” and bring forth in me nostalgia for the Teche country each time they visit with us on The Mountain. As I said earlier, the best part of a visit with this duet is the fun of watching them throw out lines that may later form the lyrics for a new song. They inspire creativity in any artist – musician, poet, and painter – and show us how to delight in creative play.
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