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Outlaw country songwriters and outsider storytellers share music, spoken word and the stage at a little beer bar in Norman


Charles Martin October 7th, 2010

Two of the metro's resident surly songwriters are staging a dual record release in downtown Norman.

5-21-09_002_7-06x9-42cm
Bloody Ol' Mule, Doc Slither's Snake Oil Salvation and Christophe
9 p.m. Saturday
Blue Bonnet Bar
321 E. Main, Norman
www.myspace.com/bluebonnetbar
447-2480
$5

Certain genres have a timeless appeal, whether it's the smoky purr of barroom jazz, the high-energy jangle of rockabilly or the earsplitting release of punk.

Outlaw country is no different, and two of the metro's resident surly songwriters are staging a dual record release in downtown Norman.

Shilo Brown of Bloody Ol' Mule and Christophe Murdock insisted on being interviewed at the Blue Bonnet Bar, where there was a noticeable absence of a stage " let alone a sound system " and the most exotic beer was a Natural Light in a 24-ounce can.

As the neighborhood around it burgeons with art galleries, music venues, retail shops and hip eateries, the Blue Bonnet remains a symbol of a time when domestic longnecks and a humming jukebox were all a bar needed to draw crowds.

The pair fit right in, as their own music clings to a less sophisticated time in country music, when songwriting sold records, not pop-star personas.

Murdock's gravely drawl recounts hard-on-his-luck stories where a quick-draw temper and anemic bank account add up to an abundance of bitter regret. Brown, whose wild-eyed, porch-stomping, coyote-howling performances have pumped life into the local backwoods scene for years, has become something of a mentor to Murdock. 

"He's the only reason I'm doing this," Murdock said. "Back in the day, I had my little Goth-punk band, Mockingbird Lane, but I'd never do that many shows, maybe one or two acoustic shows a year. Shiloh kept pushing me, telling me the music is awesome."

Murdock is a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to music, dabbling in metal, punk, country, rock and electronica. (He even plays with local rapper SmacOne, who blends country blues with traditional hip-hop.) He came to country late in the game, which he said isn't unique.

"The majority of musicians nowadays that are playing real country music have punk or metal roots," Murdock said. "Out of the younger guys, those in the underground are just old punk rockers. Punk rock is the same is as the country I grew up on: It's three chords and life. Good shit."

Brown, on the other hand, has committed to the grizzled storyteller persona that's served him well for years, both in Bloody Ol' Mule and as owner of South OKC's countercultural bookstore, Book Beat & Co.

His performances are fevered hillbilly stories of sex, revenge, blood, sweat and beers, and his wardrobe rarely strays from a flannel shirt and a cowboy hat. While the music fits him to the bone, it wasn't love at first listen.

"Growing up, I avoided that shit like it was the plague, but I eventually came around," Brown said. "Now, when I say I play country music, I'll get, 'Aww, I hate that shit.' Then you start talking about Johnny Cash and old Hank Sr., and they'll say, 'I've always liked that song' or 'I normally hate country music, but I like what you are doing'."

Brown's newest album will be spoken-word and paired with a book.

"It's backwoods tales of sex, violence, drugs " bucket-of-blood type stuff," he said with a smirk. "Kinda like Iceberg Slim talking about turning tricks and making money. They are all rhyming pieces that flow with the music."

The record is just the kind of thing that would have had a comfy spot at Book Beat, but Brown shuttered its windows earlier this year in anticipation of moving to Norman. He has yet to announce a moving date.

"I ain't lying to you. People think, 'He's in denial! The store really went out of business, and he can't just fess up to saying it's really out of business,'" he said. "I had a certain time I wanted to move it to Norman, but I had all these shows land in my lap and wanted to do that first."

Brown sees out-of-town gigs as the only way to prove to himself that his music is worth a damn.

"The key to any good song is writing it from your heart," he said. "Technical can only get you so far. I'd rather hear a singer who can't sing for a damn, but wrote a song from his heart." "Charles Martin
 
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