Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Big Over-detailed Guide to New Orleans Record Stores

Well crap, looks like Antigravity just printed their "record store issue" about a month after I started working on mine, got frustrated and got lazy. Whatever, I think I can outdo them.

When visiting other places I always google for some good guide of where I should shop for music in the area and often I come up empty-handed. Well, it turns out New Orleans actually already has a few of these, but some are out of date or biased. Well, I'll be biased too, but as long as I update this blog I'll update this page. Not that I know how long I'll update this blog.

Also, from googling I'm find out about all these stores I've never seen. Some of them may be gone, some of them I might have just been too stupid and missed. Help me out.

The Stores

The Mushroom

Short review: go here for used CDs

I live and grew up Uptown, so the Mushroom has always been right in my neck of the woods and available. And I mean ALWAYS: The Mushroom was open by October after Katrina, and they provide the strange option of music shopping when you're bored at 11 at night. That said, I've always been conflicted. They're the best place in the city to buy used CDs, but you'll have to wade through a lot of crap since I'm unsure whether they have ever turned away an album. It's all very reasonably priced in that respect though. Used vinyl follows the same policy, except with MORE crap to sift through. I've [i]never[/i] come away with vinyl from the Mushroom, possibly because I no longer try. It's all thrift store variety, maybe with the occaisional major label 80's artist that little Billy with his new record player won't realize is a dime a dozen.

New music is a wash, nothing particularly well priced or noteworthy. They're starting to work on a new vinyl section that's filled with your indie rock top 40, but they're marked up. Atmosphere wise, enjoy the Jimi Hendrix shirts, kids giggling about the pipes they're about to buy, and the Misifts/Dead Kennedys blasting over the speakers. I don't love the Mushroom, but I've benefitted from its existence, possibly more than any other store.

Jim Russell Records

short review: go for turntable equipment or the 45 you just can't find.

Jim Russel Records is old, so old it's where my dad goes to shop when he tries to surprise me (I still appreciate it). I like the place too. It has friendly owners that really do know New Orleans music when you get to talking about it, and there's always folks just hanging around, which I think record stores should aim for more. I think I'd even venture to say that of all the stores in the city, even if you go to Jim Russell's less you'll feel like a regular quicker.

But ultimately it's a frustrating experience. CDs are a mix of used and new with most used retailing for up to $10. The prices are moot though, because the rock CD selection has mostly remained the same since high school for me (at least 5 years) and has had all the good ones picked out.

Rock vinyl LPs are also Thrift Store variety with plenty of cheesy 70's and 80's rock and nothing terribly obscure. Not to mention overpriced: one of my first records ever was from Jim Russell: Ventures Christmas album for $50 looked up in a blue book (I had no idea what I was doing but it was Christmas and I wanted to hear it).

Genre-wise, the strength of the store is local and funk vinyl with a great selection of rock & roll 45s. The local selection is subdivided and though not huge, I've found many a tempting thing, lots of great old New Orleans R&B. Tempting because they know what they've got and they're not good at letting it go. It's all overpriced and underconditioned. But sometimes, that's what you've gotta do! Their rock & roll 45 selection is unmatched in this city, but same rules apply.

What I do like about them is that they have plenty of stereo equipment, record players, needles and the knowledge to sell them to you. They're cheaper than guitar center, nicer, and kind enough to tell you to go there if they can't help you. I really want them to succeed as a store because I like the people and the atmosphere, but they've gotta wise up, price to move, and filter out their stock.

Domino Sound Record Shack

2557 Bayou Road

Short review: I love it. Choice vinyl at unbeatable prices.

I believe Domino Sound has only been around for a little more than a year now but it's the sort of store that I'm happy I've gotten to step foot in, let alone have it in my city. It's not big in size or stock, but so skillfully picked I've begun limiting my cash when I go in.

There are NO CDs, though a few 8 tracks and cassettes. Really though, it's a specialty vinyl store and admittedly not for everybody. There's no top 40 stuff, not much indie top 40 either(i.e. Bright Eyes, Animal Collective, post-rock etc.). But within the well-represented varieties: punk, funk, rock, blues, jazz, caribbean, "world" (and a couple of others offered for pure intrigue) you can expect to find classics mixed in with plenty of "I never thought I'd see this in a store" albums. There's also plenty of nice little touches such as personal picks from WWOZ's DJ Soul Sister.

And the toughest part: painfully sweet-spot prices. Expect to find plenty of sealed albums go for $8 (the price at which I lose wallet control) and many great used albums for much less if you're willing to suffer some scratched sound (the only album too scratched to enjoy was from their dollar selection). Since I don't think I'm doing a good job here, I'll list some great albums I've bought there: Dead Moon, Sun Ra, Dr. John (a lot of their local music tends to retail for one dollar cheaper than LA Music Factory), Link Wray (and plenty of other cheap Norton Records reissues), Kashmere Stage Band, Dick Hyman (real cheap).

The only real drawbacks are the limited hours (only about half the week, sometimes taking a break) and a location that's pretty out of the way for me. I guess they don't accept cards either if that's a problem. But I really like employees, the feel, and of course the music. Support them!

Skully's Records

short review: Good indie on CD and Vinyl, worth checking out if you're in the quarter

When I first saw Skully's I actually kind of shrugged it off. For a small Bourbon Street location such as that I expected mainstream music for high prices, possibly even mostly crappy Louisiana music compilations (crappy describing the compilation, I love zydeco). I can't remember what made me change my mind, but I was pleasantly surprised when I checked it out. While it had organizational problems that made it hard for me to look for something in particular, especially amongst the mixed in mainstream, it's clear that it's a much hipper store than I thought. There's no used albums: at least that I could find, and most albums are around the $14 they would be anywhere. Of course, some vinyl can be much more expensive than that, but judging from the sub $10 copy of Gun Club - Miami I got from them the more expensive albums were probably expensive for them to buy.

I don't have too much to say about Skully's because it doesn't do anything phenomenally or abysmally. I think it's a good store with a solid selection in both CD and Vinyl for listeners mainstream and otherwise. Surprisingly good considering how small it is.

Revised review:

I can't remember whether Skullyz got better or whether I was an idiot when I wrote this. There aren't many used records (there are some) but there are plenty of used CDs, and, perhaps to deal with their cramped quarters, they tend to drop the price of their sealed CDs below $10 pretty often. While Skullyz doesn't have much going for it in the trad department, and it's not the place to find your obscuro holy grail 45, it's probably the best place for the opposite: they will carry the band that's making waves on Pitchfork, and will likely do so on vinyl as well and, jesus christ, not demand a stupid amount for it like The Mushroom. They're proactive, and often hold weekend sales of their stock. While I wouldn't recommend it to the travelling record tourist, they are a very important part of the New Orleans record store landscape.

Louisiana Music Factory

short review: Monstrous local CD section and extensive vinyl at reasonable prices. Always worth a look... even if you don't like Louisiana music.

I feel like an idiot for not visiting LA Music Factory until last year. I think my reason was that I thought it was exclusively Louisiana music... however there would still be stuff for me to look for there if that were the case. In any case it's now a regular visit when I'm in the quarter.

I would say that the store is mainly focused on CDs, most of them local residing downstairs. Honestly, I haven't combed much of it; there's a lot of bad music in there and I prefer vinyl if available, not to mention smaller selection make for easier choices. Although going by magnitude alone, that's a pretty good selection of local music.

Upstairs seems to be run by the guy who worked at my favorite store in high school Magic Bus Records. That's where you'll find non-local CDs both new and used in rock, blues, "r&B" etc. The new CDs are actually pretty well picked and have a lot of stuff from smaller reissue labels as well as new releases from larger indie labels, though I suspect these are chosen with particular taste. The used CDs... eh not so much in variety or price.

Vinyl-wise there's plenty in rock, jazz blues and funk. The used rock hasn't yielded much interesting stuff for me aside from some Duane Eddy I could probably find for cheaper if I kept looking. But their limited "new" albums often come from great reissue labels like Sundazed, Norton, Funky Delicacies, Soul Jazz etc., all these alongside newly acquired used releases that can be just as sharp at sharper prices. I've snagged some great local vinyl too, even if many of them are reissues, and don't ignore the local 45 selection either.

This is dragging on so if I haven't gotten through to you yet, this is an essential spot if you're visiting or live in the area. If I could change one thing about it, I'd want the prices to come down just a little. Their clearance prices are often $9.99 or higher, which really isn't that appetizing. But really, it's all very affordable and reasonable.

Euclid Records NOLA

Short review: Beautiful store with strong selection of vinyl. Could be cheaper, but right out the gates makes my short list of stores worth visiting in the area.

Long review: is here

Oddyssey Records

Short review: Mainstream French Quarter store with some small things to keep you interested.

Located further up canal street than I usually found myself going, Oddyssey records didn't wow me but didn't frustrate me either. I can do this review quick: take the selection from Borders, throw in a little more local, lower the prices (but not enough to wow), throw in some CD listening stations and you've got Odyssey... except for the fact that they actually do have a little bit of vinyl in there. Only enough for it to really come off as "let's see how this goes" but I happily walked out with one of those Eddie Bo reissues I've been seeing around. And the owner was pleased to see Mr. Bo had found a new home on my stereo. Not to mention they have a little bit of DJ/vinyl gear if you need it.


short review: overpriced, underspecialized, and over-CDed, but with good intentions. The verdict's still out, I think.

Although I hadn't been to their old Gretna location and I don't remember their Riverwalk location, Peaches has a history of supporting local artists. Since the storm they've set up in the same space as the old Tower Records in the French Quarter with vocal support from many prominent Louisiana artists I can't remember right now.

While I get the impression that Peaches is still figuring things out, I was pretty disappointed. The prices are absurdly high: for example Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog, a normal single CD album, retailed for over $18. Most prices seem to hover in the $16-17 range. Expect to see similar high prices in their DVD section. S

Selection-wise it's a mixed bag. Their local music section is probably second only to LA Music Factory and their Hip-Hop even has subcategories. Funk/Soul is pretty well chosen as well... compared to the measely other sections. The Rock section will have most of what's talked about today, but don't expect to find anything you haven't found elsewhere. The first time I was there a shopper was complaining about not being able to find DJ Tiesto. I love specialized stores but this doesn't strike me as going for that, and local music is done better by LA Music Factory hardly two blocks away.

Right now I feel no need to shop at Peaches, but I'm rooting for them anyway. This quote confirms it "We're doing a whole different thing, " Rea said. "Ours is a multicultural experience. I want the world to see what is going on in New Orleans. I want them to have a bowl of gumbo in the cafe and listen to the artists and see the painters. It's not just selling a CD." Yes! That's EXACTLY what I've always thought a good record store should do, and I believe them. And sure enough, they've got concessions that you can buy right there in-store.

edit: They've since added a ton of used vinyl. I can't say I was terribly thrilled at the selection, and it's definitely one of those places where your used vinyl deals will be found by out-savvying the owners. My lukewarm opinion remains.

The Iron Rail

Part of an anarchist collective/bookstore, The Iron Rail has a pretty good selection of punk and hardcore CDs and vinyl for Fugazi prices. There's not a terrible too much to say about it because you can make up your own mind on whether to go by their online inventory list

They do play neat movies too so whether you're a big fan of anarchism or not it's worth subscribing to their blog

Musica Latina:

Honestly, I'm woefully undereducated in latin music so I've never ventured inside. I'd welcome a guest review.

Retro Joe's on Magazine St: Not so much of a record store as it is a place with a small collection of records but HOLY PRICE GOUGING! I saw thrift store regular Harry Belafonte's Calypso for $20 a few hours after I saw it for $1 at the airline Bridge House. Ventures Live On Stage was $45: their best album but certainly one of the Ventures albums that you'll find for $5 with patience

Cookbooks store on Toulouse: former location of Magic Bus, kept selling a small amount of records. Small blah selection of overpriced stuff. I've been a few time and found nothing.

Nuthin but Fire Records: from what I gather this just recently opened and sells hip-hop. I rarely shop for hip-hop so I haven't been. Again, guest reviews would be welcomed.

Flea markets, Thrift Stores, Garage Sales: more on this later.


Vieux Carre Vinyl: never had much luck with them but it broke my heart last time I was there to hear them openly saying to each other "we gotta sell pipes or something because this thing isn't working out". Even if your good stuff was all overpriced, I'll miss your unreachable piles of music.

Magic Bus Records: Had two locations before the storm and didn't return. I bought so many used CDs there, many of them not proud purchases, but I loved doing it. One of the guys works at Louisiana Music Factory now.

CD Warehouse: used CD store that really kind of sucked despite two locations. For a while after the storm you could find a lot of their stuff at Bridge House. Some of it is still there.

Rocks Off: Even closer to my house than the Mushroom and so much cooler. Specialty selection with lots of punk and indie. Colby, the owner, is a real nice guy and I think he lives in Austin now.

Underground Sounds: I don't really remember this place, it was a real long time ago. I probably didn't even have enough taste back then to tell you if it was good

Wherehouse Music: I list this because I loved it back when I was 14 and it was within walking distance. And because you can find their old shelves all over the place now.

Virgin/Tower Records: You were corporate chains but I still enjoyed having you. Luckily, we may be doing even better without you

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