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Zonky

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Critics' Reviews

amg review
McKinney's Cotton Pickers were an unusual band in many respects in the pre-swing and early swing era in which they operated. They didn't really have a prominent bandleader (William McKinney, the group's namesake, and the original drummer, moved permanently behind the scenes to handle the band's bookings and business affairs in 1923, leaving the drum chair to the amazing Cuba Austin, a definite upgrade), and as a so-called "territory band," they operated primarily in the Detroit and midwest region of the country, where they were a constant and popular draw at a time when most big bands worked out of New York, staying close to the big clubs and radio outlets. The closest the Pickers came to a frontman was Don Redman, who came aboard in 1926. A solid sax player (both on alto and tenor), Redman was, more importantly, a gifted arranger whose mark is all over the recordings on this disc, which covers the group's peak period from 1928 to 1930. Although no one would accuse Redman of being a charismatic singer, his laconic and nuanced vocals on songs like "Rocky Road" (included here) have held up well over the years, and while not primarily a vocal band, the Cotton boys, in retrospect, handled that end of things pretty well. It could also be argued that the Cotton Pickers boasted the strongest saxophone lineup in the country for a time, with Redman on alto, Prince Robinson and George "Fathead" Thomas (and sometimes the great Coleman Hawkins) on tenor, and Milton Senior on clarinet. Zonky is a wonderful introduction to this amazing congregation of players, whose lively, joyful sound on cuts like "Cherry," "Shim-Me-Sha-Wobble," and "Baby, Won't You Please Come Home" give ample testament to why audiences in the middle of the country didn't want them to escape to one of the coasts. ~ Steve Leggett, Rovi