This year’s closure of Morning Bell Records was a terrible blow to Jackson, Mississippi’s music scene, so the news that a new record shop had opened in Jackson was welcome. But Offbeat Arts, the new venture from adventurous Jacktown DJ Young Venom is not exactly a record store in the ordinary sense, and what it is might at first seem confusing. It is (all at the same time) an art gallery, a record shop, a clothing store, a book store and a performance space. When I visited for the first time the weekend of the Core DJ’s Retreat, it was hosting a video shoot for local hip-hop artist Jaxx City. Its vinyl selection isn’t huge, but leans toward the funky, hip and less familiar side of the spectrum, and as might be expected, there’s a decent selection of local artists and releases (but not much in the way of CD’s, so be forewarned). There are also books about hip-hop and Black culture, comic books, local Jackson clothing gear, and beautiful local art. Occasionally, on weekends, Offbeat becomes a performance space for various DJ-based genres of music, which is appropriate, as the shop sits in the middle of Jackson’s burgeoning Midtown Arts District. When visiting, it’s probably a good idea to call ahead, as some days Offbeat is open by appointment only, and the opening hours seem to vary and be a little sporadic. That being said, Offbeat is as cool as store as I’ve seen anywhere in the South.
I knew that live music went on at Brinson’s in downtown Memphis, but it had been years since I had been there, so when I read that the Concrete Soul Band would be playing there, I decided to drive down and check it out. Concrete Soul proved to be a very funky, tight band, playing both smooth jazz and some neo-soul, and after the intermission, we got a special surprise as former Memphian Arean Alston came on stage to perform. Alston had been in Memphis all week, and had performed elsewhere, but it was great to see her in the city again.
Although I was in St. Louis for a Recording Academy event, the event wasn’t until the evening, so I had the better part of the day to go around to local book stores and record stores, and St. Louis is really a dream come true to anyone who collects books or records. As the day progressed, I made my way around to Left Bank Books, the Book House, STL Books, Vintage Vinyl and Euclid Records, the last of which was only a couple of doors down from where our event was being held.
Going the I-10 route through Houston as I did meant that I didn’t get into Austin until 4 in the morning on Monday, so it was nearly noon when I woke up on the first day of my South By Southwest week. After a breakfast at Jim’s, I headed over to one of my favorite Austin neighborhoods to do some record and book shopping. The North Loop neighborhood is a small stretch of funky boutiques and shops with really cool things like vinyl records, vintage clothing and books. Monkeywrench Books is a cool, left-wing bookstore with a lot of books that aren’t available elsewhere, like the really cool book I found, Michael P. Jeffries’ Thug Life: Race, Gender and the Meaning of Hip-Hop. Down the street is Breakaway Records, arguably Austin’s best vinyl store, with an emphasis on 45-RPM vinyl singles, and fairly low prices. Breakaway also sells stereo equipment and accessories. In the same shopping center is Epoch Coffee, a great place to relax and chill after an hour of strenuous vinyl shopping. I’m not even sure what is in an Iced Mojo, but it is truly amazing.
The North Loop neighborhood is located along North Loop Boulevard between Lamar and Airport Boulevard in North Austin.
Memphis music author Robert Gordon has completed his latest book Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion, which is the third book to deal with the history of Stax Records, after Peter Guralnick’s Sweet Soul Music and Rob Bowman’s Soulsville, USA, and Gordon was at the Stax Museum in South Memphis on Saturday afternoon to sign copies of the new book. Memphis’ legendary bluesman (and former Mar-Key) Don Nix was also present, as were around a hundred or so people who came to get their books signed, enjoy food and drink, and hear Gordon read excerpts. An all-Stax concert featuring Don Nix, Eddie Floyd and Sir Mack Rice was being held later down in Clarksdale at Ground Zero.
On a Thursday evening after work, I drove down to Oxford, Mississippi to eat dinner and shop at my favorite bookstore, Square Books, and then I noticed that a new frozen yogurt place had opened directly on the square called YaYa’s Frozen Yogurt. I decided to try it before heading back to Memphis, and I found it was really good.
It probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that New Orleans has an anarchist bookstore, because if there was ever an American city that suggested anarchy (the concept, not chaos) it would be New Orleans. New Orleanians seem to be fun-loving people, who want to be left alone to do what they want to do as long as they’re not hurting others, and in a city where government has often been corrupt or dysfunctional, people have learned to make do without government. All the same, the Iron Rail Book Collective got evicted from their old location by the self-styled Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association, a group of gentrifiers who objected to the collective’s concern for the homeless. Now located in the French Quarter, the tiny shop sells a fairly decent selection of books on struggles, labor, Black liberation and gay and lesbian issues. Like so many left-wing shops, many of the interesting books stocked at the Iron Rail are not available elsewhere. There is also a small selection of music, mostly indie rock.
One of the attractions of Miami is the city’s great diversities of culture, allowing you to experience the food, music and art of several different cultures in one destination, so for those fascinated by the culture of Haiti, a trip to Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood can be extremely rewarding. Almost at the center of the neighborhood is a brightly-painted architectural wonder called the Caribbean Market that is beautiful, but sadly closed for renovations. The good news is that work seems to be going on, so the market should soon be open again. Nearby in the next block is Librerie Mapou, a Haitian bookstore that is the perfect place to learn more about Haiti’s amazing history and culture. The downstairs room is filled to the rafters with books (many in Kreyol or French) while the upstairs is a gallery of Haitian art, traditional Rada drums and priceless artifacts. Record stores like Sonny Sounds or Fifi Records offer the Haitian national music style known as Kompa (short for kompa direk or “direct hit”), but the latter has the deepest selection of classic groups like Les Difficiles de Petion-Ville or Tabou Combo. You can finish your day of shopping with authentic Haitian food at any of a number of restaurants along 2nd Avenue or 54th Street.
MonkeyWrench Books is a collective that runs a left-wing bookstore in Austin’s ultra-hip North Loop neighborhood (Well, really, what Austin neighborhood ISN’T ultra-hip?). The average conservative will hate this place, but there are plenty of books on African-American and Hispanic struggle, workers’ struggles, anarchism, socialism, communism and environmentalism. Many of the books I saw here I have not seen elsewhere. They are open from 11-8 weekdays and from 12-8 on weekends at 110 E North Loop. You can call them at (512) 407-6925.
Half Price Books and Records in Dallas might be the largest used book store in America, or close to it. Of course there are other locations in Texas, as well as in several other states, but this flagship store on Northwest Highway in Dallas is the original location and company headquarters. The store is filled with used and cut-out books, compact discs and vinyl record albums, all at remarkably low prices. Visit them at http://www.hpb.com/001.html for more info.