Album review- The Murphy Beds, “Easy Way Down”- intricate, intense interplay between instruments

The Murphy Beds, “Easy Way Down” •

 It has been almost 10 years since Jefferson Hamer and Eamon O’Leary made their debut recording as The Murphy Beds, but the hiatus is understandable, given how busy the New York City-based pair have been elsewhere – adding in the pandemic factor, too. Dublin native O’Leary is part of The Alt (along with Nuala Kennedy and John Doyle) and has released several recordings of his own material, including this year’s “The Silver Sun”; Hamer, who grew up in Massachusetts, is a singer-songwriter himself whose collaborations include Boston’s own Session Americana and the enchanting “Child Ballads” album with Anaïs Mitchell. (Despite other commitments, Hamer and O’Leary have given a few Murphy Beds performances in the Boston area, including at the centenary commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising held at Boston College.)

The appeal of The Murphy Beds lies in an often intricate, intense yet engaging interplay between their respective instruments – O’Leary on bouzouki and nylon string guitar, Hamer on acoustic guitar and mandolin – that weaves riffs and motifs behind exquisitely matched close harmony vocals. Though much of their repertoire draws on Irish, American, Scottish, and English folk traditions, O’Leary and Hamer have shown a proclivity for branching out into more contemporary material, and that holds true on this album, which includes the title track – written by Jay Ungar – “Falling in Love” by American country songwriter Bob McDill (also covered by Juice Newton, among others), and an O’Leary original, “Lie Easy.”

Highlighting the traditional songs are “The Holland Handkerchief,” a ghostly love story that Hamer and O’Leary invest with a patient, palpable build-up of suspense and anticipation; the well-traveled, sweet yet sad  “Blackwater Side” (long associated with traditional singer Paddy Tunney); and the tragic “Annachie Gordon,” one of legendary English singer Nic Jones’ much-admired discoveries, played here on duet guitars in a winsome 3/4 time and capped off by an unnamed tune that underscores the story’s poignancy. 

There are a couple of other instances on “Easy Way Down” where O’Leary and Hamer focus solely on the instrumental: a robust medley of the Irish jig “Scattery Island” and the march “Bonnie Prince Charlie” – Hamer’s guitar switching between rhythm and harmony, to great effect, behind O’Leary’s bouzouki; and the hop jig “Cucanandy” after a moving rendition of Ewan MacColl’s “Thirty Foot Trailer.”

Speaking of eloquent but economic songwriting, don’t overlook O’Leary’s “Lie Easy,” full of troubled remembrance and resolve:

I left a note wrote on the mirror

I looked my old life in the eye

I live by words that soared away

Like birds into the morning sky


There are times we fix our eyes on glory

There are days we turn away in shame

Still we ride, still we sing at night

And rise up with the day

There is a consistently unhurried, patient quality to the Murphy Beds’ music, as well as a complexity and depth that rewards you for listening to it. []