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Letters from a Flying Machine

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Album Review

It's hard to understand why Peter Mulvey isn't better known. His acoustic guitar work is flawless, avoiding folky clichés for a light, jazzy feel that makes his melodies bounce, and his singing is superb, an understated tenor that puts across deep emotion without over-singing. Maybe it's his enunciation that puts people off. You can actually understand every word, while most of the radio-ready pop singer/songwriters in the 21st century try to express emotion by moaning and mumbling their way through a tune, dropping as many melismas into every line as the market will bear. Letters from a Flying Machine is built around spoken word interludes — letters written to his young nieces and nephews that he never sent. Most are painful to listen to, lacking the grace and lighthearted humor that mark his songwriting. The one letter that doesn't fall flat is "Vlad the Astrophysicist," a look at the indifferent nature of the universe through the eyes of a scientist. It's an unnerving bit of prose, implicitly about the impossibility of finding a real connection with other people, and probably not a piece you should play for impressionable children. Thankfully, the songs on the album aren't as heavy-handed, even when they take on weighty subjects. "Some People" is a wry topical tune that touches on religion, homelessness, and congressional sex scandals with a breezy grace and a refrain that will immediately embed itself in your skull. "Kids in the Square" addresses the tribulations of the world from another angle, contrasting the messes adults make of their lives with the kids dancing in the rain, still unaware of what faces them in adult live. Mulvey's chiming, inventive fretwork gives the tune an uplifting swing. Mulvey looks through a "Windshield" to observe the winter with a blue eye and aching heart. Bluesy sustained notes and David Goodrich's slide guitar intensify the tune's frosty feel. "Dynamite Bill" is a wordy, humorous blues about love and its limitations marked by Mulvey's quicksilver playing and Zak Trojano's minimal percussion. He closes the album with a take of Gershwin's "Our Love Is Here to Stay," recorded as if on a cassette machine in an airplane's bathroom, or perhaps as heard over an old-fashioned radio with a rattling speaker. ~ j. poet, Rovi

Customer Reviews

Like Ripe Fruit

The thirteen tracks that fill Mulvey's latest release, Letters from a Flying Machine - mostly songs, but also a few antiqued, literary intimacies known as letter writing - stack up, one atop the next, like an irresitable display of sweet, juicy treasures discovered on your weekly Saturday morning trip to the local farmer's market. Bite into each one and let the juice drip down your chin. This is the work of an artist hitting his prime. This record strikes a rare and near perfect balance of instrumental skill, and concise, imaginative story telling. Most of Mulvey's prior releases contain moments of brilliance, but Letters from a Flying machine shines from the first track to the last. Repeated listens may require some of the spoken work offerings to be skipped, but their tangible contribution to the positive, human, emotional impact of this record is undeniable and essential. Highly reccomended.


one of the most tallented artists of our time. don't question his work. buy it.

One of the best of 2009 (blog excerpt)

Though he’s been doing his thing far longer, I’ve only been listening to this man for about a half a decade, and I feel cheated. I wonder… how much better a songwriter would I be if I’d been exposed to his music sooner? He is an artist who’s always trying new and different approaches, and by that he is absolutely the most non-traditional of the ‘traditional folk’ genre that has embraced him, which is one of the reasons I enjoy him so much.

This album is basically an 8-song EP with 4 spoken-word interludes and a self-described ‘coda’ to finish things off. Of the songs, five were co-written with friends of Mulvey’s. This isn’t to say he needed help; his solo contributions are as fine as anything he’s done, but the collaborations definitely throw some new ingredients into the stew, and we get to hear Mulvey stretch out in directions hitherto unexplored — “What’s Keeping Erica” sounds like a Bavarian drinking song; we get a straight up blues stomp on “Dynamite Bill”, and “On a Wing and a Prayer” has sections that make me think Mulvey may have found the McCartney to his Lennon in rising star Tim Fagan.

The spoken word pieces are truly where the heart of this record is, though. Mulvey is renown for his between-song-banter and stories, and he has immortalized a few of those stories here… in the guise of spoken letters to his nieces and nephews, which he reads over subtle instrumental backing… and plane noise. As a frequent flyer who has used the quiet hours in the sky to do a lot of writing, this really resonates with me, and the stories told in these interludes are every bit as great as the songs they introduce.


Born: Milwaukee, WI

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Urban art-folksier Peter Mulvey has lived an artist's life since adolescence -- he was a college theater major, spent time busking in Dublin, Ireland, and founded the Milwaukee band Big Sky, all before his early twenties. But his professional music career didn't really begin until 1991, when was fired from a job at a Kinko's Copiers in Boston. Flat broke and in need of immediate cash to entertain his visiting brother, Mulvey starting playing his guitar in the subway. He supported himself that way...
Full Bio
Letters from a Flying Machine, Peter Mulvey
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Customer Ratings