In the Homegrown Plus series, we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both together in an easy-to-find blog post. (Find the whole series here!) I’m very happy to continue the series with The Murphy Beds, which is the duo of Eamon O’Leary and Jefferson Hamer. The Murphy Beds present traditional and original folk songs with close harmonies and deft instrumental arrangements on bouzouki, guitar, and (sometimes) mandolin.
Just to give some background on the musicians, Eamon started playing Irish music while growing up in Dublin. When he moved to New York City in the early 1990s, he immersed himself in the city’s traditional music scene and travelled widely, performing with many of the great players in Irish music. In addition to solo work, he has performed in groups such as The Alt with John Doyle and Nuala Kennedy and The Immigrant Band with John Doyle, John Herrmann, and Rafe and Clelia Stefanini.
Jefferson is a guitarist and singer based in Brooklyn, NY, but with roots in Massachusetts and Colorado. In 2013, he and songwriter Anais Mitchell won a BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for Child Ballads, a collection of new adaptations of English and Scottish folk songs. He also performs with Cambridge, Massachusetts, roots rock ensemble Session Americana.
Jefferson and Eamon met at Irish sessions in New York City. Both had a love for collecting, arranging, and performing songs from Irish, American, Scottish, and English traditions. As they began to collaborate – first in larger ensembles, but most enduringly as a duo – they also recognized an affinity for other more contemporary idioms. Whatever the source – songs of the Irish travelers, Arkansas spirituals, or their own compositions – their arrangements feature the same carefully wrought interplay of voices and strings.
The Murphy Beds’ singular sound is only possible because the two members listen closely and interact fully while they play. This practice is reflected in their unusual stance on stage. They stand at right angles to each other, so they can see each other but the audience can also see them. They sing into a single microphone, which they carry with them to their concerts. See what I mean in the player below!
In the interview, I spoke with them about their musical experiences, together and separately. For Jefferson, that included theatrical bluegrass and eclectic acoustic music, as well as the Child Ballads collaboration with Anais Mitchell, later the mind behind the Tony-Award-Winning Hadestown. For Eamon, it involved being adopted by the immigrant Irish community in New York, playing a gig on his second night in his new homeland, and specializing in the bouzouki while being a guitar player at heart. Enjoy the wide-ranging conversation in the player below!
Thanks for watching, listening, and reading! The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress. For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress. For past concerts, including links to webcasts and other information, visit the Homegrown Concerts Online Archive.