Levi Kreis Live at Rockwood Music Hall

Mark Shiwolich Levi Kreis 2Material: He won a Tony for his portrayal of Jerry Lee Lewis in Million Dollar Quartet, but in his set at Rockwood Music Hall, Levi Kreis performed original music. A native of Oliver Springs, TN, this performer’s blues and gospel roots are evident, but he infuses those flavors into more straight-ahead romantic and power ballads, which thematically explore a myriad of love’s ups and downs. Tinged with sadness, “Hold You All Night” describes the soul wrenching pain of trying to come to terms with relationship regrets. The song’s bittersweet intro, sets the stage perfectly for what’s to come musically and lyrically: “I would hold you all night if there was such a thing as second chances.”

On a more optimistic note, Kreis’ “Love in Another Light” sensitively expresses the willingness to open one’s heart to real and lasting love: “Tear down the walls, open my eyes, wanna know love in another light. There’s gotta be more to this life, let me know love in another light.”

Musicianship: Kreis’ vocal and piano skills are top shelf and open the way for full self-expression. With technique securely under his belt he is able to perform with total abandon. Gospel as well as R&B elements permeate his voice and piano style, but Kreis raises them to an even more theatrical level. Though most of his songs harmonically go to a musically logical place, Kreis often throws in an unexpected chord, putting a nice spin on the song.

Performance: Many songwriters who perform with their chosen instrument find comfort in being safely tucked behind it; in Kreis’ case, however, the piano was an organic outgrowth of his total performance. Completely at home on stage, he delivered to his fans exactly what they wanted, even fulfilling a shout-out request here and there from the crowd. Sometimes he polled them for ideas on what they might like to hear next. It’s a savvy way to keep the connection with your audience, but for those new to the Levi Kreis experience, a bit more variety in the repertoire, primarily in subject matter, would be a plus. Mid-set, Kreis displayed some of his more flashy pianistic skills in a gospel number complete with a well-deserved dig to the music business.

Summary: It is refreshing to hear an artist who sings from the heart and writes straightforward songs with clear messages and meaningful lyrics. Throwing in a couple of songs with varying themes would break up the love ballads a bit more without alienating his loyal fan base or straying from his primary genre. Kreis’ songs have also been heard in The Vampire Diaries and The Apprentice. – Ellen Woloshin