By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Nov 22, 2023 at 9:02 AM

Snuggle up with some holiday cheer as OnMilwaukee shares stories of everything merry and bright in the spirit of the season.

The OnMilwaukee Ho Ho Holiday Guide is brought to you by Educators Credit Union, Harley-Davidson Museum and MolsonCoors

Black Friday Record Store Day is fast approaching and that, of course, coincides with holiday shopping. So, here are some recent vinyl releases that just might help you solve a few gift-giving dilemmas this season.

The Beatles – "1962-1966" & "1967-1970" (Apple)

For a while, after the "Revolver" box set, some folks had thought the next project would be a similar treatment for "Rubber Soul," but later we learned that with the ultimate completion of the unfinished "Now and Then," the so-called "Red" and "Blue" albums were next in line to be reissued. These two posthumous compilations came out in 1973, but for my generation of Beatles fans – alive when the band was together but too young to really appreciate them – these records were like palimpsests, messages from the beyond, introducing us to the Fab Four's incredible catalog. I can still remember buying the red album at Sam Goody in a Brooklyn mall when I was about 9 or 10. So, despite the fact that they were not original releases, fans have come to accept them almost as if they were. These reissues are on CD, black vinyl and colored vinyl (red for "Red," blue for "Blue") and as separate sets and together in a slipcase of clean, but pretty basic design. Each double-LP has been expanded to a triple, and "Now and Then" is included on the third disc of the blue album. Each LP comes with a two-sided sheet with an essay. Other than the uninspired box – which is, admittedly, much better than the lifeless "Now and Then" sleeve art – these reissues are well done. Heavy cardboard sleeves, half-speed mastered on 180-gram vinyl. The real debate among the devoted will be whether or not they like Giles Martin's remixes, which use the same incredibly technology invented by Peter Jackson that allowed for the dissection of the "Get Back" audio. I've never been an audiophile obsessive but to me, especially the early tracks, sound bright and alive with newly boosted detail. Whether or not they're better than original UK mono pressings, I can't say. After all, I grew up on the butchered Capitol albums. Thus, I'll leave it to the hardcore folks to duke it out. In the meantime, I'm too busy loving these, as will, I suspect, any Beatles fan on your holiday list.

Willie Colon, Hector Lavoe & Yomo Toro – “Asalto Navideno Vol. II” (Fania/Craft)


On the 50th anniversary of the second volume of the trio’s “Christmas Assault” we get this stellar-es-ever reissue from the folks at Craft Recordings who, I’m thrilled to say, appear to have fully embraced the classic tip-on album cover production method. With festive gems like “La Banda,” “Doña Santos” and “Cantemos,” performed by legendary names in salsa, this record is infectious and lively and perfect for any holiday celebration, especially if you’re hoping your guests will get up and dance. As is always the case with Craft reissues, the details are carefully attended to, from that sleeve to the poly inner to the 180-gram vinyl to the lacquers cut by Kevin Gray from original masters. My copy is black, but there are also Christmas tree-green vinyl versions that I bet look amazing.

Jackie DeShannon – “The Sherry Lee Show” (Sundazed)

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For someone who admittedly only really knows singer Jackie DeShannon as one of the opening acts on The Beatles’ 1964 U.S. tour, this double-LP in gatefold sleeve is a revelation. It’s four sides of jumpin’ vintage honk tonk radio, made when the singer was working as a country and western singer under her real name, Sherry Lee Myers. The tapes were recently rediscovered and have an amazing story. They were made by DeShannon’s mother, who recorded them off the radio in 1956 and ‘57. Though DeShannon made her name as the pop stylist behind “What the World Needs Now Is Love” and “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” these recordings find a small-town Kentucky singing great tunes by the likes of Patsy Cline, George Jones and Webb Pierce. The arrangements are simple and direct and DeShannon sings her heart out. One of the best finds of the year, if you ask me.

Gil Evans and Ten (Prestige/Craft Recordings)

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This classic 1957 set – in mono!! – is one of seven Black Friday Record Store Day vinyl releases from Craft Recordings (another is the "Written in Their Soul" sampler below) and I'm going to take the opportunity to applaud Craft's use of the tip-on sleeve construction here. And the Kevin Gray mastering. And the 180-gram vinyl in poly inner sleeve. But credit for the great music goes to the late Evans and a small jazz orchestra (large jazz band?) that included the likes of bassist Paul Chambers, soprano saxman Steve Lacy and trombonist Jimmy Cleveland. There was no one better at orchestrating and arranging this kind of lush, yet spacious jazz and this record is a perfect example of Evans' skill.

General Public – “All the Rage” & “Hand to Mouth” (BMG)

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The year 1984 was an exciting one in music because it’s the year that The Clash guitarist Mick Jones formed two bands – General Public (with former members of The Beat and The Specials) and Big Audio Dynamite. Though Jones left before the former band’s first LP, “All the Rage,” was released, he was on it and the band’s self-titled first single was – along with B.A.D.’s “The Bottom Line” – one of the year’s best. “All the Rage” benefits not just from the voices of Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger, but also ace hornwork from The Beat’s Saxa and veteran Jamaican hornsment Tan Tan Thornton, Bammie Rose and Vin Gordon (check out “Anxious”) , as well as the bass work of The Specials’ Horace Panter. It’s a fun mix of R&B and pop with a slight reggae tinge. Two years later, the short-lived group brought a second helping of the same in the form of “Hand to Mouth,” but it marked the end of the band, until a reunion came a decade later. These are great records that haven’t maintained much of a profile, which is a shame. Hopefully these first vinyl editions in decades will help rectify that.

"Hit the Bongo! The Latin Soul of Tico Records" (Craft Recordings)

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One of the year's most infectious releases is this 26-track compilation of Latin-infused jazz, pop and soul – and salsa – by the likes of Ray Barretto, Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Joe Cuba, Celia Cruz and others. Originally released on the indepedent Tico label between 1963 and 1972, this is the kind of uptempo, hip, funky, horn-laden music that will have everyone up and dancing. There are also Latin-inflected covers of hits of the day, like "Tighten Up" and "Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In." "Hit the Bongo!" is a pre-fab party slipped neatly into a gatefold sleeve.

"Hot House: The Complete Jazz at Massey Hall Recordings (Craft)

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Seventy years ago, the giants of bebop – Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach – were assembled to play a one-off gig at Toronto's Massey Hall. Two LPs were released from that tumultous night – the story is darn near as good as the music – and they are both included in this triple-LP in a gorgeous double gatefold in a plastic slipcover. Best of all a third LP features the original quintet recordings before Mingus overdubbed his bass once back in New York. That story and more about this intriguing evening are captured in the engaging liner notes and there are also photos from the show included. This is a stunning (dare I say Grammy-worthy) package that does justice to a landmark night in modern jazz; a night that was filled not only with great music but with the kind of controversy and behavior that is key to the mystique of the bebop pioneers.

The Kinks – The Journey Part 2 (BMG)

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In spring, in honor of the band's 60th anniversary, the first of two double-LP retrospectives of the legendary British rockers The Kinks arrived, sharing music from across the band's decades-long career in a sort of thematic rather than chronological way. That made for interesting listening and fresh look at the group's varied output. Now, the second installment is here and, like its predecessor, it contains a mix of well-known tunes, like "Sunny Afternoon," "Till the End of the Day" and "David Watts," as well as lesser-known but surely not lesser music. The songs were selected by band members Ray Davies and Mick Avory and remastered by Kevin Gray. The gatefold sleeve also comes with a booklet with photos and info. I like this approach and with a couple dozen LPs' worth of material, I'd love to see another volume, too.

Red Rockers – Condition Red (Liberty Spike)

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Released in 1982, this debut full-length from New Orleans punks Red Rockers kicks off with 1979's "Guns of Revolution," which staked out ground as an American band heavily influenced by The Clash – musically, thematically, lyrically. That might've put them a bit out of step with American punk in 1982 – which had veered off into speed-driven hardcore – but still they secured Jello Biafra for a cover here of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." Later, the band would would hire Stiff Little Fingers' drummer Jim Reilly and have a chart and MTV hit with a considerably less edgy song called "China," but I'm not sure we really appreciated "Condition Red" at the time and this reissue on transparent red vinyl and with an informative booklet, could help rectify that a bit.

R.E.M. – “Reveal,” "Up" and “Accelerate” (Craft)


The R.E.M. vinyl reissue program – which earlier this year brought back 2004’s “Around the Sun” and 2011’s “Collapse Into Now” – continues with new editions, two of which cut by Kevin Gray and pressed on 180-gram vinyl ("Up" was remastered by Ted Jensen). There are variants of all available at the band’s HQ store (one of the "Up" versions has an essay by Milwaukee native Josh Modell), but even the black vinyl versions will be exciting for the band’s fans as they are rare PVC editions of records issued during the CD era. “Reveal” was something of a return to form for R.E.M. after they tinkered a bit with electronic sounds on “Up,” and “Accelerate,” the band’s next-to-last album, was, in large part, recorded live in the studio and has the kind of vibrant rock band sound you’d expect from that approach. Rolling Stone called it. “One of the best records R.E.M. have ever made.” It's appropriate that "Up," the first record the band made after drummer Bill Berry's departure, kicks off with a drum machine. But it is one of the band's less heralded gems.

Josh Rouse – “1972” (Bedroom Classics/Yep Roc)


There are a few Josh Rouse records that I adore from front to back – “Nashville” immediately leaps to mind – but I think that “1972” is my favorite of all of them. Hard to believe this breezy pop masterpiece – the singer/songwriter’s fourth album – inspired by the radio pop of the 1970s is now 20 years old, but it is and on that occasion we get what I think may be the first-ever vinyl release. If not, it’s the first to be available in a good long while. Blending the sonic joy of ‘70s AM radio with Rouse’s expressive voice and unbeatable songwriting, “1972” has it all: ballads, dance numbers and more. This edition is limited to 2,000 copies, so don’t wait too long to grab yours.

"Stax Christmas" (Stax/Craft)

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Soul and soul jazz have provided us with some of the best Christmas music around (think James Brown, Jimmy Smith, Motown, Kenny Burrell), but Memphis' legendary Stax Records also had some real holiday gems, as this new compilation reminds us. An unreleased recording of Carla Thomas singing "Blue Christmas"? Albert King's awesome "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'"? The inimitable Isaac Hayes crooning "The Mistletoe and Me"? Heck yeah. Plus a bunch more, including an unissued alternate mix of Otis Redding singing "Merry Christmas Baby," make this a yuletide turntable must.

Steely Dan – “Aja” (Geffen)


For a year or so now, the smooth jazz/rock crossover specialists Steely Dan have been getting the reissue treatment on their first seven records. So far, “Can’t Buy A Thrill,” “Countdown to Ecstasy” and “Pretzel Logic” have hit shops, with 1977’s ubiquitous “Aja” landing recently. While London was burning and the CBGB’s scene was re-writing American rock and roll, this record – which wowed audiophiles at the time and won a GRAMMY for the best engineered record – was everywhere on album rock radio, spawning hits like “Peg,” “Deacon Blue” and “Josie.” It earned the band its first platinum record and, if the music now seems like it was on the wrong end of what made 1977 exciting, it was an interesting and clearly successful exploration of the borderlands between soft rock and mellow pop-jazz. And it has been enduring. I just heard the opener ‘Black Cow” again recently out in the wild. This version was remastered by no less than Bernie Grundman and its pressed on 180-gram vinyl and presented in its original gatefold sleeve.

Tom Waits – "Swordfishtrombones," "Rain Dogs," "Franks Wild Years," "Bone Machine" & "The Black Rider" (Island)

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In the '70s, Tom Waits was a quirky piano-based modern tin pan alley songwriter who made some great records. But in 1983, on a new label, finally producing himself, Waits shed created a new genre-defying sound that was experimental, edgy and completely unique. A stretch of records, which included that year's "Swordfishtrombones," 1985's "Rain Dogs," 1987's "Franks Wild Years," 1992's "Bone Machine" and 1993's "The Black Rider" (along with some inspired soundtracks, too), constitute an output so unique and so solid, that, really, everyone should own the records. Fortunately, for the 40th anniversary of the first one and the 30th anniversary of the most recent of the batch have been reissued on both CD and 180-gram vinyl (choose black or a different color for each LP) in original sleeves with original inners, too. If you weren't along for the ride back then, now you can easily get up to speed.

“Stax: Written in their Soul: The Stax Songwriter Demos” (Craft Recordings)


This single-LP sampler from the seven-CD set of Stax songwriting demos compiled by Milwaukeean Cheryl Pawelski is pressed in stunning orange vinyl. As I wrote about the full set, when Pawelski learned that there were demos out there somewhere documenting the birth of dozens and dozens of great southern soul sides, she scoured tirelessly to gather these 140 unreleased gems (plus six more that have previously seen the light of day) by the likes of The Stable Singers, Eddie Floyd, Carla Thomas, Denise LaSalle, Rufus Thomas, Booker T. and the MG’s, Shirley Brown and others. This 13-track sampler is just a taste of the bigger serving of intriguing and interesting music that will keep you occupied for a good long while, just like it did Pawelski, who surely seems well-positioned to nab her fourth Grammy with this “just when you thought there was nothing left in the archives”-style masterwork. A Black Friday Record Store Day release.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.