(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Friday, December 23, 2011

CD review - Levi Kreis, Live @ Joe's Pub (2011)

Powerful, emotionally charged singing

Levi Kreis has built a loyal following for both his acting and singing. From launching his recording career via The Apprentice to his 2010 Tony Award for playing Jerry Lee Lewis in Million Dollar Quartet, Kreis has already garnered critical acclaim. Live @ Joe's Pub is a perfect showcase for his sincere and grounded persona. The ten songs (and four bits of stage banter) capture the audience interaction of a live show.

Between his emotional singing and confessional stories, Kreis invites the audience into his life, catching them up on who he is and how he got here. His self deprecating humor keeps the positive messages about personal authenticity (Vignette #2) from turning into a sermon.

Of course, Kreis' powerful gospel influenced voice still creates a churchy environment. He belts out songs like the stage actor he is, but maintains a lot of vibrato soul in his singing. His piano accompaniment is solid, but takes a backseat to the singing. While some songs like Left Over have a Billy Joel vibe, Kreis leans more toward Rufus Wainwright, especially on songs like The Reckoning. Regardless of those comparisons, Kreis' voice is stronger than either of them and his songs seem more heartfelt.

As a live album, Live @ Joe's Pub has decent sound, but the producer made a basic mistake with the mix. Given how powerful Kreis' voice is, it would have been better to drop it back about 10%. Also, the heavy reverb on his singing is gilding the lily. A song like Bonnie Raitt's I Can't Make You Love Me is moving enough on its own. A subtler hand would have preserved some of the emotional nuances.

The album closes out with a new song, Let It Go. Kreis builds up the the verses with staccato chords supporting a breathy lyric. Then, the chorus expands the passion as his voice breaks with feeling:
Let it go, let it all go
It's time to forgive now the one who matters the most
It's a good summary of the message Levi Kreis shares throughout Live @ Joe's Pub. His core fanbase will love the experience of a solid 45 minute live set presented on the album. Kreis should also pick up some new fans who are open to his emotionally charged singing and sincerity.

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