As its title suggests, Peter Mulvey’s concept on Letters from a Flying Machine deals with composing reflections about life while onboard an aircraft. His voice conveys sincerity, kindness, and worldly acumen, but—even as a fan of spoken word—some of his material leaves me cold. “Vlad the Astrophysicist” contains a fairly remarkable theory, which won’t be revealed here, but many other observations mix analytical thought and down-to-earth asides in a way that fails to create a sense of universal experience. Some may find these stories profound or life affirming, but more will recoil from such saccharine images as children asking “deep” questions about death at social gatherings, fathers grilling whenever the weather permits, and da Vinci’s imagined reaction to cookies being warmed up on a plane.
The other non-plane songs should appeal to the small-but-devoted following of warm-hearted fans Mulvey has probably built up over the past two decades. Far better, though, would be an entire album of direct but slightly off-kilter ditties in the same vein as the brief, final track “Love Is Here to Stay”. It suggests Peter Mulvey has the potential to do (in advertising terms) for the airplane what Leon Redbone did for the train.