Chet Baker, please report to the 22-year-old in the photograph. Michael Leviton looks nothing like you, sure, but he seduces listeners with similarly warm vocals, tender tunes, and booming charisma. Every Monday, the Sidewalk Café bustles as Leviton dons his pinstripes, loosens his tie, and sings ukulele-based love songs about the sea. “The shadows they lengthen/The day wears on/I’m weak as a plankton/I’m small as a prawn,” laments Leviton, who reminisces about oceanic escapades, as you do in “Moon and Sand.”
Compare “My Foolish Heart” with Leviton’s “You’ll Pay for Your Day at Pleasure Island.” You sing, “Her lips are much too close to mine/Beware my foolish heart/But should our eager lips combine/Then let the fire start.” Leviton answers, “Each caress/Each moment’s passion/Is another check the bank will soon be cashin’.” OK, so he’s not Chet Jr., but he’s a comparably swinging crooner. He updates your hurt without making it seem like work. Now compare “My Funny Valentine” with Leviton’s “Dumbest Girl in Town.” You sing about a woman whose “looks are laughable,” but who is nonetheless your “favorite work of art.” Leviton’s got similarly realistic ideas about great women seduced by miserable men.
His voice, although less morose than yours, also works through nuance and suggestion. His thin tie tickles a shimmering black belt, too. His timing, inflections, middle-register solos, and breezy confidence salute you with every swung chord, crisp syllable, and gentle arpeggio.
So who is this youngster? Well, torn from California’s San Fernando Valley, churned through fascinating courses at Wesleyan University, and spit onto the hip streets of Alphabet City, Leviton elbowed his way through the Sidewalk Café’s amateur night with a friendly mix of Microphones-like meditation and Beach Boys-like casualness.
The fact that you double on piano and Leviton doubles on glockenspiel does not doom the analogy. Neither does the fact that you are a famous frontman with chiseled cheekbones and he is a revisionist beach bum with unshaved sideburns. The main difference is that you brood while he bumbles, but that’s a footnote for fusspots. He’s got your grace, and he’s got your number. When he’s not singing about the sea, he’s yapping about the aught years (“Like in aught-three/When things were the way they ought to be”) and drawing influence from barbershop quartets in rodeo bars and straw hats.
“I’m thinking of wearing a straw hat next time,” Leviton told The Village Voice in an exclusive interview by the pool table, where gals and guys tiptoed around his splintery bangs for fear of losing an eye—presumably. Maybe his gangly hair does not match your slick West Coast ‘do, Chet, but these are indie rock times, when guys named Conor and bands named Death Cab for Cutie top charts, seduce stoners, and pull the price tags off love.