Two lone soul country outlaws play Oklahoma City every now and again. They say they exist, burning bright, away from modern time and space.
They say you can see into their souls if you stare into a campfire long enough, dead-drunk on whiskey, and those visions you see in the blaze, they might just be your own. And those songs those boys sing, they just might tell your story.
Their names are Ryan Lawson and Shilo Brown, as Bloody Ol’ Mule. They sing their songs in the now, but their honky-tonk spirit is one that’s long forgotten and flattened into the mud by plastic, pop country superstars, they said.
On Friday Feb 25, at the Blue Note, you can see them coming, walking out of a plume of dust, into the city under midnight sky, guitars clutched in hands like the clubs of roaming Vikings.
The Blue Note Bar is over yonder on NW 23rd St and Robinson Avenue. Their shows going down after the sun start setting and the moon gets all pretty and the girls act crazy as their mascara starts to fade.
Yep. Them boys sure do sing from the heart.
Brown’s a familiar name to counter culture in Oklahoma City, but that weird book store that boy owned, The Book Beat? Yeah, he sold that place. He took his bluesy western songs and headed on down the interstate.
Now Brown looks like a Bloody Ol’ Mule, all haggard and unshaven. He’s been to the places in fever dreams, bought the T-shirt, and now he wears it, smelling like three-day old sweat.
Now he calls himself Bloody Ol’ Mule. He’s a one-man band that can sing literary love songs that make the toughest guy fall for the nicest girl, or he can scare the holy spirit out of you when he starts growling those murderous words into the microphone like a leg-shot Doberman.
Maybe it all depends on how many shots that boy’s had.
Brown said he plays an electric guitar, a stomp box, a harmonica and he sings, but that isn’t what he does. He doesn’t care to explain his music, it doesn’t fit into a little labeled box.
Ryan Lawson. He’s a different sort of fella and he sings mighty pretty, but not like a lady at all.
Ryan’s quiet most of the time. like he doesn’t have to speak unless an eternal truth bubbles up from his core. He listens and speaks strong and softly while Shilo hoots, cusses and falls over in his barstool.
Ryan’s songs sound an awful lot like his hobo-folk hero like Townes Van Zandt. Except he doesn’t shoot Jack and Cola into his arm vein, and his heads still on his shoulders, not 6-feet under dirt, he said.
He sings this great song about this garden he built with his old lady, that would get ruined if she stopped loving him. But hell, all his songs are deserve to be heard, and his voice sounds a lot like Maynard James Keenan if he sang acoustic crooners.
They reckon that if you like music, not country music, but music period, then you should go see their show.
“Shilo gets mad when I call my music campfire country,” Lawson said. “Guess I’m just a sucker for alliteration.”
“He can call it what he wants, but I wouldn’t buy the friggin record,” Brown said. “Sounds like John Denver, or roasting weenies on the fire.”
“Ryan’s a singer-songwriter, plain and simple,” said Brown. “People think if you say you’re a singer songwriter you sit around and drink coffee and all that crap.”
“I’ve played coffee houses and road house beer bars, people will accept my music anywhere, because people know it’s the truth,” said Lawson
“Nightlife by Willie Nelson sums up what honkytonk is, and that’s what we play. Nightlife ain’t no good life, but it’s my life,” said Shilo, quoting Willie.
“You play songs onstage and help people fall in love, but you never get a chance to. Maybe you’ll take some hooker back to your hotel but really besides your music, there ain’t nothing,” Brown said.
Lawson said sometimes he doesn’t even get to sleep in a motel, and camps in the back of his car.
Lawson and Brown spoke to the City Sentinel at their studio in Moore, across the street from the town’s water tower.
“I think it’s funny you’re interviewing us next to this damn water tower that says Home of Toby Keith,” said Lawson.
“I started thinking about it, and if you want to be sold a Ford pickup truck go listen to Toby Keith. If you want to hear some good honest music, come see us play,” Lawson said.
Ryan Lawson’s last record can be bought at locally owned music shops like Size Records and Guestroom. It’s called “This Old Knife.”
After the Blue Note on the 25th, Lawson’s next show is at South By Southwest as part of the Oklahoma Showcase.
Bloody Ol’ Mule’s last CD is called Lonesome Midnight Ballers, and after Friday’s show, the next time he’s booked in the city he’s playing the Blue Note again on March 11.