Digging Deep into Funk and Soul

renaldo1 Digging Deep into Funk and Soul

Renaldo Domino (Photo: Ben Shirai)

The first thing you notice about the Chicago soul singer Renaldo Domino is that he sounds like a woman, which is his best quality. His voice is smooth, sweet and high-pitched, like Smokey Robinson’s, but there’s a slight quaver in it that evokes Jimmy Scott’s jazzy contralto.

Mr. Domino is in his early 60s–though he looks 20 years younger–and not well known. (The second thing you notice about him is that you’ve never heard of him before.) He had a hit in 1971 with the ballad “Not Too Cool to Cry,” but he stopped performing for a long time after that and has only started doing shows regularly within the last few years.

On Saturday night at Littlefield, in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, Mr. Domino performed a short and excellent set for the Dig Deeper concert series, the first of the new year, put on by record collectors Richard Lewis and Michael Robinson, who are devoted to unearthing arcane funk and soul material and presenting it live. (Their series is worth knowing about.)

Mr. Domino–who has performed in Dig Deeper concerts in the past–appeared on stage around 11 pm in a baggy, gray satin suit; he looked like a stylish professor with his rectangular glasses and mustache. His gold belt buckle read “Renaldo,” and his short afro was parted raffishly to one side.

“Hey, girl,” he sang, backed by the nine-piece Brooklyn Rhythm Band, “my soul is aching for some feeling.” The audience cheered as he danced smoothly on stage, swinging around his microphone, channeling Michael Jackson’s coiled energy.

Mr. Domino sang his 1971 hit, Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up” and Al Green’s “Take Me to the River,” which, Mr. Domino added, his “good friend” Cee Lo Green also covers. About halfway through his hour-long set, the energy in the room flagged for a short while but quickly picked up again as Mr. Domino found his way.

Before Mr. Domino’s set, three singers — Meah Pace, Eli “Paperboy” Reed and Saretta Wesley — paid tribute to Marva Whitney, who died this winter and toured with James Brown. Mr. Reed was the most engaging of the three. He moved freely about in a dapper-looking wine-red suit and a thin tie, letting out gravelly screams, grunting, moaning.

The whole evening felt, appropriately, like a musical excavation, a throwback to another time.