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.
Since the sad demise of Mississippi’s venerable Be-Bop Records chain several years ago, the sole survivor as far as vinyl and indie rock has been Morning Bell Records, a vinyl-oriented store with a strong local selection that has operated in Fondren’s Duling Hall for the last couple of years. That space, while cool, was exceptionally small, and Morning Bell, like many of today’s better record stores, is a venue for live performance as well as retail music, so toward the end of 2013, it moved to new quarters on I-55 north just north of Northside Drive, not far from the old iconic Bebop Record Shop location. The new, roomier space has allowed for the addition of a cafe, which will feature coffee drinks, baked goods and panini sandwiches, and the larger room should be an asset when live concerts occur there. Other than the move, the bigger room and the addition of espresso drinks, nothing much has changed. Morning Bell is still as hip as ever, and demonstrated the point admirably by playing bluesman Leo Welch’s new album Sabougla Voices as I was walking in.
Morning Bell Records
4760 I-55 N Frontage Rd
Jackson, MS 39211
When I walked back from my coffee break, singer-songwriters Taylor Hildebrand and Valley Gordon were performing at Morning Bell Records. I was not familiar with them at all, but their music was tuneful and attractive.
Record Store Day proved to be a warm and beautiful day in Jackson, and I headed over to Morning Bell Records in the old Duling School in Fondren to celebrate. The great bluesman Bobby Rush was on hand, performing with just his guitar to an initially-small crowd that grew until the whole store was filled by the end of his hour-long set. He is as much a great raconteur as blues musician, and he held the audience spellbound. There were also limited-edition Bobby Rush compact discs and vinyl albums for sale. I also managed to buy $50 worth of used CD’s (including a Lee “Scratch” Perry boxed set), and a delicious Abita root beer, since Morning Bell sells craft beers and sodas. Outside in the hallway, there were delicious, free pulled-pork sandwiches for Record Store Day revelers.
Morning Bell Records in the Fondren neighborhood of Jackson, Mississippi is that city’s only independent record store, and it is a unique treasure. The focus of the store is vinyl, and there is a great selection of both new and used vinyl records. Of course, there is also a wonderful selection of Jackson and Mississippi music in both CD and vinyl formats, and a small selection of new and used CD’s, primarily indie rock. Besides the record store items, Morning Bell stocks craft beer and artisan sodas, and is also a recording studio for local bands and a record label. My brief browsing yielded some absolute jewels, including a Lightning Malcolm CD on Jimbo Mathus’ old Knockdown South imprint, the latest CD from Jackson hip-hopper 5th Child and a used CD of Neon Bible by Arcade Fire. Morning Bell Records is located in the old Duling School at 622 Duling Avenue in Fondren. You can visit them at http://morningbellrecords.com/.