Sir Dobyne | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Sir Dobyne 

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Vocalist Sir Dobyne (formerly Robert Dobyne) isn't well-known around town--he's never released an album under his own name, and these days his regular gigs are mostly in the suburbs. But his career dates back to the early years of Chicago soul. In 1963, as lead voice with a doo-wop-influenced group called the Artistics, he sang behind Major Lance on his breakthrough album, The Monkey Time. That gig helped land the Artistics a contract, and they cut a handful of mid-60s sides on Okeh that are now considered classics. Dobyne worked for a time as a songwriter and backup vocalist for Motown, among other jobs, then in 1971 returned to the Artistics, singing lead again for the hit "Make My Life Over." The group disbanded in 1973, and for most of the next 25 years Dobyné worked for Ford, performing only occasionally. He left Chicago briefly in the late 90s, returning to his native Alabama and playing nightclubs as a solo act, but he's been back for a couple years. On a demo tape he's recorded, Dobyne's voice is coarser than it was in the Artistics, and he performs with restraint and maturity. Even on sentimental material, he doesn't take the cheap way out, instead making careful use of aching blue notes, controlled vibrato, and subtle slides and pauses. On more aggressive tunes, like Rufus Thomas's "Walking the Dog," he uses his leathery voice like a drum, articulating his syllables fiercely--the obvious comparison is to James Brown. Occasionally Dobyne imitates rather than interprets: on "Georgia on My Mind" he makes the mistake of trying to mimic Ray Charles's unique country-soul croon, and on Billy Preston's "Will It Go Round in Circles" he falters in an attempt to emulate Preston's sly motormouthed hipsterisms. But he brings hard-soul virility to Al Green's ethereal "Let's Stay Together," and on "634-5789," which Wilson Pickett rendered as a lustful howl, he instead offers a playful invitation. Dobyne could do with some fresher material, but at their best even his readings of soul standards display great creativity. Here he'll be backed by the Sounds of Hakeem and two of his bandmates from the Artistics, Tommy Green and Larry Johnson; this afternoon show is a benefit for Bessie's Home, a shelter for abused women and children that Dobyné and his wife, Clementine, are working to open. Sunday, February 18, 4 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452.


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