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Peter Mulvey
Letters from a Flying Machine
Review By Steven Stone
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  Concept albums, like shaggy dog stories, rely more on the teller than the tale to succeed.  Peter Mulvey's latest release uses the simple device of reading letters he wrote to his unborn niece while traveling on an airplane to unite the CD's songs. Do the tunes really need these connecting bits of prose? No, but just as a performer's between song patter enriches the audience's live experience, these bits of prose add to the album's impact.

Peter Mulvey has always been a conceptual guy. One of his albums, Ten Thousand Mornings, consisted of tunes played and recorded in Boston's Park Street Subway Station. His last album, 2007's Notes from Elsewhere, featured stripped-down re-recordings of older tunes. In contrast, Letters from a Flying Machine is populated with new material and a full backing band.

Mulvey's lyrics combine personal narrative with universal images. While he draws heavily from his own experiences, the results aren't navel-gazing introspections as much as musings on the contemporary world and how this outer world affects our inner one. The opening song, "Kids In the Square," features a chorus with a mellifluous melody line coupled with a happy shuffle beat. The second song, "Some People," serves up a jivey, bluesy patter coupled with the chorus, "I just go umm, um, um…" It displays Mulvey's sharply descriptive wit.

Mulvey's also a fine acoustic guitarist. His fingerpicking chops are on display at the beginning of "Windshield," which highlights his nimble-fingered rolls. Like all superior fingerstyle guitarists Mulvey has a spot-on sense of rhythmic timing. The beat bubbles along, driven by his thumb and forefinger. Acoustic bass player Paul Kochansky adds a solid low-end to all the songs while Chris Wagoner's mandolins parts add sparkle to the top.

Coinciding with the release of Letters from a Flying Machine Peter Mulvey is embarking on his third annual bike/concert tour. Called "The Long Haul Tour" he plans to peddle from Muskegon, MI to Grand Rapids, and after three more Michigan dates Mulvey will bike to three shows in New York and then three more in Massachusetts. The daily rides between gigs range from 40 to 101 miles. So if you're traveling on the roads of Michigan, New York, or Massachusetts during September and see a fellow riding on a recumbent bike with a guitar, wave hello to Peter Mulvey.

 

 

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