An Exploration of Traditional & Contemperary Balladry
This is another one of those ballads that I have never sung in a performance, but one which I sometimes find myself singing when the mood or moment lends itself to a dark brooding ballad that touches on the complexity and primal difficulty of brother on brother relationships and the tribal bond of family--which perhaps can only be severed when the unthinkable fratricide of this ballad occurs. Sometimes I think of this as a remake of the even more ancient story of Cain and Abel.
This ballad is an American variant ofChild Ballad #13 (Edward).Edward appears in Percy's Reliques (1765). It was sent to Percy by Sir David Dalrymple who may have altered the lyrics and changed the hero's name to Edward. Because of the spelling in the original copy, there was suspicion that the ballad was not authentic. Child discounts this. Motherwell believed the ballad was an incomplete version of a longer ballad, possibly The Twa Brothers (#49) or Lizie Wan (#51). There are variants of the ballad in Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Germany.
John Jacob Niles collected this tune in 1934 in Saluda, North Carolina. (Note: Niles is known to have retouched or written several of the ballads in his book. He is therefore not considered a reliable source. I have included them here out of interest.)
[Source: http://www.contemplator.com/child/murbro.html ]