I’ve compared Levi Kreis to Onitsuka Chihiro numerous times, but like any such comparison, it’s not exact.
Kreis makes his R&B influences plainly known, while Onitsuka draws more from the Carole King school of balladry. When either artist cuts loose from the confines of the piano ballad, the results are strikingly different.
But within the context of the piano, their similarities are more perceptual than musical. In plainspeak, I don’t usually like this kind of stuff, but I like it far more when they play it.
Kreis’ first album, One of the Ones, is pretty much him and the piano. For such limited instrumentation, the album is incredibly expressive.
"Hold You All Night" employs the kind of darkness more akin to Sacha Sacket, while "Just This Good" is rooted in Delta blues.
Kreis expanded "With You" for a full band on his second album, The Gospel According to Levi, but even the stripped-down version here hints at a song with a larger scope.
"I Should Go" was included in the Revolutions compilation from the Music with a Twist label, and its earnestness makes it suitable for a television drama. Actually, the entire album could find its way on various soundtracks — it’s pop angling for a mainstream radio audience.
As such, it’s not exactly innovative. So it’s up to Kreis himself to sell the music, which he does.
As emotive as his music can get, Kreis is no show-off — he doesn’t overdo it like most singers under an R&B influence. If anything, the sparse instrumentation on One of the Ones is really refreshing — it’s far too easy to imagine this music overproduced.
That’s where Kreis and Onitsuka share their main similarity — the performances more than the music make their albums appealing.
The final two tracks of One of the Ones are live recordings, which show Kreis in a jazz trio setting. They’re a nice constrast to the rest of the album and demonstrate Kreis’ strengths as a performer.
The indie snob in me wants to use adjectives such as "quaint" and "appealing" to describe One of the Ones, but personally, I like it far more than that. The truth is, your mileage will vary. This album isn’t eccentric or eclectic, nor does it aim to be. But for a pop album geared for a mainstream audience, you could do much, much worse.