Thursday, August 4, 2016

Baltimore: Maryland Music Mecca

As Silver Spring reconfigures from being dubbed a record paradise a few years ago (the Record Exchange moved to an upgraded location and Joe's Record Paradise is in limbo while trying to move--both still in downtown Silver Spring), these Vinyl Vagabonds have been spending more and more time (and money) in Baltimore.  A few exceptional, shared traits of Baltimore record shops: the owners are usually there working, the shops are in convenient locations, the prices are good, and each shop covers its own niche market.  The first point deserves some explanation.  The owner's presence makes a world of difference as they know their inventory, the music, and make savvy (and sometimes cryptic) recommendations.  For owners to open and close up shop daily takes some serious commitment.  The VVers experience over the years has been that these Baltimore store owners really care about what they do.

Here are four of the Vinyl Vagabonds' favorites in no particular order:

Celebrated Summer Records
Hand-painted Thrash Cat action figure
Celebrated Summer just celebrated their ten-year anniversary and the VVers were on the scene to salute.  What makes this place so great?  Tony, the owner, just published a fantastic zine, "I've Wasted My Life," about the ten-year history of the shop, which really gets into the nitty-gritty of what makes this place so special.  He even had limited edition action figures made for the anniversary party.  Now that is classy!  There are always creative Celebrated Summer t-shirts and great store promotionals (such as a Record Store Day poster printed in collaboration with MICA using their iconic Globe Poster letterpress collection).  The store has occupied a few different locations and currently resides in Hampden next to their symbiotic neighbor, Atomic Books (buy your Vinyl Vagabonds zines there!).  Celebrated Summer specializes in new and used punk, metal, and hardcore, but also has a good selection of reggae, jazz, and rock.  Notably, it is an impeccably organized, clean, and well-curated shop.  When asked, Tony offers up his deep catalogue of music knowledge.  VVer #2 has definitely thought twice about an unknown record she wanted to buy based purely on the cover art.  Words of wisdom from the shop owner about the quality and style of music (and offering to pop it on for a spin) steered her in the right direction.  A+ store.  Super-fantastic records purchased from Celebrated Summer over the years include Misfits Collection II, Melt Banana Cactuses Come in Flocks, Bad Brains Rock for Light, and Root Radics At Channel One Kingston Jamaica, to name a few.

The True Vine
Also in Hampden, this two-room store on a side street off of "The Avenue" is loaded with used LPs, mostly in the rock, international, and experimental genres.  True Vine's small international bin is so well maintained that you can just literally close your eyes and pick up something random and it will be a new musical experience.  There is a plethora of records you've never seen, heard, or even heard of before.  This can sometimes be intimidating; a shop full of mystery records.  Thankfully co-owner Jason is often there when the VVers roll in.  He is very engaging, super chill, and he really knows about his inventory.  It's just so incredible to speak with someone who has such an encyclopedic knowledge of music from such varied genres. 

El Suprimo!
El Suprimo! boasts an organized, hole-in-the-wall basement location in Fell's Point which is stocked with used records of all stripes that features strong jazz and classic rock sections.  No new records here.  This is the type of shop that you can walk in and just ask owner Jack what he has recently priced and recommends, and buy it without regret.  When VVer #2 was in a recent jazz slump and needed something new (to her), she asked for some advice and home came some newly priced Lee Morgan and Bill Evans.  More recently Thelonious Monk Quartet Five by Monk by Five was recommended, but the VVers expressed some convictions about Monk being too mellow.  He guaranteed this one was not mellow-Monk and delivered.  This is also a place you where you immediately notice great music playing over the hi-fi that you might not have heard before.  This exact scenario happened a few years back while flipping through some records and there was this intense blues playing in the shop.  The VVers didn't recognize who it was, and upon inquiring, were introduced to the pre-pop iteration of Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac.  They done learnt something that day those VVers.

The Sound Garden
The Sound Garden is a mecca for new vinyl in Fell's Point.  They always have a comprehensive selection of new releases, excellent prices, and (more recently) a respectable used vinyl section.  Compared to the other shops on this list, the Sound Garden isn't exactly a Mom and Pop shop, but it is definitely run right (their other location is just as stellar in Syracuse, NY).  As one would expect from the city where Record Store Day was conceived, they put on an unparalleled event; lots of giveaways, well organized records (and lines), and tons of vinyl special releases and backstock.  They host frequent in-store performances/signings and are a must visit for any vinyl head.  As a larger store experience, it is unparalleled for selection, customer service, and general awesomeness.  It should also be noted that they carry a wide array of movies, music of the non-vinyl variety, and all sorts of other thingers.  You'll also do pretty well if you should decide to trade in for cash or credit.  Places like this are fewer and fewer these days and it is refreshing to find yourself in a shop that really is the total package.  The amount of records that have come from the Sound Garden in the VVer's collection amasses to a list too long to enumerate.  High-five!

Looking for a music mecca?  Baltimore is where it's at.

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