Call it Gumbo Funk. With a sound based in the blues, Blue Merlot goes far beyond the "Blue" that's in their name. R & B grooves mix with harmonic vocals, distinctive New Orleans style keyboard virtuosity, intelligent songwriting, and reinterpretations of cover songs. Their "gumbo funk" sound is a blend of Blues, South Louisiana R & B, Rock, Jazz, Gospel, and Swamp Pop. The band has played venues in south Louisiana and beyond since 2001, including the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Their debut CD was in the preproduction phase in the summer of 2005 when life changed suddenly for Gulf Coast residents. The CD, entitled Blue Merlot, brings together key personnel affected by both hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Songwriter/lead vocalist Brenda DeKeyzer Lowry is one of many, many residents with memories of Rita's water rising too quickly (and too high) in her yard. She and producer/arranger/piano-guitarist Joshua "Bubba" Murrell, drummer Louis "Buddy" Romero, and bassist Gerald Romero, Sr. all are natives and residents of Iberia Parish. The CD was recorded at Steve and Cezanne Nails' Dockside Studio, which was a refuge for many musicians during the Katrina evacuation. Engineer Steve Reynolds, one of the owners of Ultrasonic Studio in New Orleans, evacuated twice - once for Katrina (in which Ultrasonic was destroyed), and then from Dockside Studio three weeks later, for Rita. Reynolds has worked with artists such as Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Smokey Robinson /Queen Latifah duet, Dukes of Dixieland, Amanda Shaw, Corey Harris, Buckwheat Zydeco, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and the Neville Brothers. Recently, he (along with Ultrasonic partner David Farrell) engineered Irma Thomas' Grammy-nominated After the Rain. It's only fitting that another Gulf Coast resident would master the final product. Respected mastering pioneer and multiple Grammy winner Roger Nichols, who lived in Lake Charles at one time, offered to lend a hand with mastering after meeting Murrell and Lowry at the summer NAMM show in 2006. Nichols' clients include a huge variety of artists, including Steely Dan, Joe Cocker, John Denver, Bobby 'Blue' Bland, Cher, Crosby Stills & Nash, Gloria Estefan, Emmylou Harris, Bela Fleck, Frank Sinatra and Frank Zappa. The disk carries a warning: "This CD contains FULL DYNAMIC RANGE and explicit audio clarity!" Inside, the explanation: "...the trend in audio production has been to diminish the dynamic range...in order to boost the apparent volume....This CD has been mastered so as to retain more of the recorded dynamic range. You may find it a bit quieter at first than most currently released CDs...so crank it up..." The result sounds like a very tight live band, with a refreshing clarity and three-dimensional sound. Audiophiles, take note! Following the storms, the project that had been originally planned took a turn. Some songs were shelved in order to make room for others inspired by the weather: Rita Katrina Jones is an acoustic blues tune personifying 2 storms as a wild woman who tears things up when she drinks too much. Floatin' Round New Orleans (featuring a duet with zydeco artist Terrance Simien) is a "what might happen" song set in a possible future of what could happen if Louisiana doesn't take care of proper levees and it's coastline. Blue Tarp City is a somewhat sarcastic commentary on the sudden rash of remodeling along the Gulf Coast. Wall of Water (which was originally written in 2002 following Hurricane Lili) utilizes guitar harmonics in the final section of the song to replicate the sounds of a hurricane. If you've ever ridden out such a storm, you'll recognize it. A close look at the CD cover reveals that the blue background is, indeed, a blue tarp. In addition to the storm-related songs are other originals, such as Delete Me (from your Virtual Memory), Big Ovaries, and The AA Cup Blues as well as several of the band's unique stylings of classics such as House of the Rising Sun (listed on the CD as Furry Lisa's Stairway Bells). The final product has a strong Louisiana groove, outstanding musicianship, crystal clear vocals, and funny tongue-in-cheek songwriting. From the carnage of Katrina and the wreckage of Rita comes some musical fun that's healing as well. Guest appearances from friends round out Blue Merlot's distinctive style: Zydeco artists Terrance Simien and Danny Williams, Swamp Pop saxmeister Willie Tee Trahan, vocalists Andy Smith and Sammy Holbrook and guitarist Gary Granger. In addition to guest musicians, Blue Merlot also features specialized instruments and modifications, including a custom tube guitar amp manufactured by Robert "Bob" Mineville at The Airtight Garage in New Iberia, Louisiana, a custom guitar handcrafted by Harold Romero, Sr. (deceased) of Romero's Music in New Iberia, and a custom carbon fiber bass and acoustic guitar. Have a listen. The music you hear will make you smile and think that maybe, just maybe, one good thing came out of the summer of 2005.
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