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 had been invited by my friend Darren Towns, the bass drummer for TBC Brass Band, to go around with the band to their gigs on the Saturday of Satchmo Fest, and for the better part of the afternoon I had. But when I found out that there was an hour and a half interregnum between gigs, I decided to head out to Lake Pontchartrain and try a restaurant that I had been seeing for about a year but had never tried called The Blue Crab.
Elsewhere in this blog, I have discussed the odd fact that the seafood cuisine of New Orleans and of the Mississippi Gulf Coast are rather different, despite close proximity, and that while it has been fairly easy to find fried seafood in New Orleans, it has not been nearly as easy to find the kind of gourmet seafood that is fairly common in Biloxi, Gulfport or Bay St. Louis. That now seems to be changing, and while Hurricane Katrina decimated the old seafood restaurants on the West End, a couple of new restaurants have appeared along what New Orleanians call the Lakefront, and the Blue Crab is one of them.
All of the new restaurants along Lakeshore Drive have certain things in common, chief of which is beautiful views of the lake, the marina and the yacht club, and the Blue Crab is no exception. The view from its outdoor dining deck is truly amazing, and the resort ambiance is far more akin to something from Florida than something from Louisiana. As for the menu, there is little unusual for a New Orleans seafood place, and the prices are fairly reasonable. I opted for the fish of the day, which was pompano, and had it prepared in an almondine style, where the fish was breaded and fried, then topped with a butter-based almond sauce. As one might imagine, it was amazingly good, and accompanied by french fries that were golden brown and delicious. I chose to end my meal with a slice of key lime pie, which I enjoyed while watching the sun go down in the west over the marina. All in all, I was pleased with the Blue Crab, and will likely return.
Since the last time I had been in New Orleans, the great Louisiana Music Factory record store had moved from their longtime location on Decatur Street to new digs on the ground level of the building where Offbeat Magazine is headquartered at the foot of Frenchmen Street. While the new location is smaller (there’s no upstairs), there’s still plenty of selection. I can usually expect to spend about $100 in this store, and this trip was no exception. While vinyl and CD’s are the main attractions, don’t overlook the amazing book department, which is for the most part restricted to books about music or books about New Orleans (I’m especially partial to books that are about both). There’s also a fairly decent selection of DVD’s (mostly about Louisiana), some T-shirts, and an assortment of concert poster replicas. Don’t miss it.
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.
After I left Travis Heights, I drove over to East Austin and parked my car across the street from the Carver Community Center. As I was walking down the hill, I came first to Trailer Space Records, the cool vinyl and used CD shop that is also a music venue. During SXSW, it can get too crowded to come inside, but I was able to do some browsing before I continued walking down past the cemetery to the Hotel Vegas. While there, i checked the SXSW schedule on my phone and saw that the 1970’s funk/soul band Kool & Together was playing at the 512 Rooftop on Sixth Street, so I decided to walk over that way and see if I could catch their show.
Also in South Austin is a record store called Friends of Sound, which can be hard to find despite its South Congress Avenue address, as it opens onto the alley behind. Unlike Waterloo or End of an Ear, Friends of Sound sells nothing new, and no formats other than vinyl. The emphasis is on soul and funk, especially 45’s, and some of the best and rarest ones often come through the store, particularly ones with a Texas connection. Prices are not low, but the selection of records that aren’t seen anywhere else is significant.
With Austin being such a hip town, it has become ground zero for the vinyl renaissance, with plenty of vinyl record shops in several different neighborhoods. South Austin’s End of an Ear is definitely one of the better shops, with a specialized inventory that emphasizes indie rock, jazz, soul, funk and reggae. Vinyl is the main thing here, although there are plenty of compact discs as well, with a decided bias toward independent labels. A small selection of music books and DVD’s rounds out the offerings. Live music gigs in the shop are not uncommon either, at least during South By Southwest.
End Of An Ear
2209 South First Street
Austin, TX 78704
Young Clifford Antone had left his hometown of Port Arthur, Texas in 1968 to attend the University of Texas at Austin, but his college career was cut short by a marijuana arrest. What could have been the beginning of a downward spiral was anything but for Antone, who in 1975 founded a night club that would prove to be one of the greatest blues night clubs in the world. Antone’s moved several times over its long career in Austin, but its impact was significant in the city, helping to establish the reputation Austin enjoys today as the “Live Music Capital of the World.” By 1987, the night club had inspired a record label called Antone’s, and a retail record shop of the same name on Guadalupe Street near the University of Texas campus. The empire that seemed impregnable began to fall apart after Clifford Antone’s death, however. The record label failed after acquiring the assets of another bankrupt Austin label called Watermelon Records. A bankruptcy auction left the Antone’s masters in the hands of New West Records, where at least some of them are still available. The club became more of an indie rock entity, and finally moved out of downtown into East Austin before closing. Today all that remains of the Antone’s name and legacy is the retail record store near the campus. Heavily skewed to vinyl and the blues, it is a must-visit spot for blues lovers, and prices are reasonable. Even the used compact discs are full of unexpected items, especially in the Texas section.
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.
Recent years have not been kind to the retail music situation in Baton Rouge, so I was thrilled to learn of a new vinyl record shop called Lagniappe Records. It was fairly late on a Sunday evening when I got to Baton Rouge, and the store would have normally been closed, but someone answered the phone when I called, and agreed to let me in to browse and purchase records despite the lateness of the hour. Lagniappe is located in a charming house in an old neighborhood of Baton Rouge near downtown called Beauregard Town. The bulk of the music is on LP, mostly used and rare, but some new. There is a smaller selection of 45-RPM singles, and an even smaller selection of 78-RPM singles. Such CD’s as there are are mostly indie rock and local or regional bands. Lagniappe is definitely worth a visit when in Baton Rouge.