When I got on the plane taking me from St. Louis to Baltimore (by way of Atlanta), I didn’t have any grand plans. I was going to visit friends, and I made it clear to them that the full tourist treatment would not be necessary. More than anything, I just wanted five days out of my everyday element. I had no problem with hanging out and doing nothing. As I told my partner while on patrol, “All I want is a few days of ‘not this.'”
But I couldn’t come 900 miles and do absolutely nothing. So I made two small requests. The first was to visit the Smithsonian’s Air and Space museum, which was fantastic. I also asked to visit a couple of record stores. I mean, how could I not?
I asked Siri for the name of the best record store in Baltimore. (All right, maybe she’s not the best authority on the subject. But my local friends aren’t quite as obsessive as I am. So any port in a storm.) My computerized friend told me I needed to go to The Sound Garden. The friend I was visiting told me I should try Record & Tape Traders. Naturally, I couldn’t come up with a reason why I couldn’t do both.
Record & Tape Traders is located in Towson. As it turns out, I had been there before. But since that visit was in 1988, you’ll forgive me if my memory of the place is a little sketchy.
The store had a slightly corporate feel, with an indie vibe injected into the mix. It had to be a coincidence, but as I walked into the store, Tears for Fears was playing on the overhead speakers, straight out of 1988! It was like I never left the place, even though I hadn’t seen it in nearly 30 years.
I think the corporate vibe came from the store’s price stickers. They are IDENTICAL to the stickers used by F.Y.E., the now-defunct corporate store I frequented in St. Louis. Even the used CDs are packaged the exact same way. I guess they used the same distributor. The store also had its fair share of merchandise sprinkled throughout the building. The inventory was still primarily musical, but it wouldn’t take much for that to change. I’d be interested to see this store five years from now, just to see if the balance is the same. The overall prices were on the high end of adequate, but I didn’t imagine that would deter me if I saw something interesting.
It may be a little snooty, but I tend to judge a record store by how easily I can find the obscure music I like. That usually means heading for the sections containing King Crimson, Miles Davis, and Frank Zappa. In this area, Record & Tape Traders did pretty well. I found a 40th anniversary edition of King Crimson’s Beat, which surprised me. I passed on it, though, because what was in that set would likely be in the box set I plan to order soon. I even found two Zappa titles I’d been unable to get from F.Y.E. I even tried to order them from Amazon, but the price was outlandish. Lo and behold, there they were, sitting in a bin in Towson, waiting for me. I was definitely meant to be here! I picked up a couple of other goodies as well.
On the whole, I enjoyed my visit to Record & Tape Traders. The selection is decent and the sales staff (particularly Greg) is cool. I can see myself going there again.
The next day, I got to see if Siri knew what she was talking about. I went into Baltimore City, where my friend and I located The Sound Garden. From the second I walked in, I knew Siri was on to something.
The place was bubbling over with indie vibe. The floors were gritty, in a good way. The sales staff had just a slight air of aloofness, reminding me of the stores I went to with my dad when I was a teenager. Don’t get me wrong: the people were more than helpful. But I couldn’t help but wonder if I was gonna have to prove myself worthy of their time, like in the old days.
The store is completely dominated by music, as it should be. There were t-shirts available, but they just kind of blended into the walls, leaving plenty of room for the CDs. The LPs had their own separate section, as did the DVDs. Rest assured, nothing was going to get in the way of your musical exploration. The prices were really good, too. I was finding brand new CDs for seven bucks. The obscure music was there, too. I stumbled across a copy of John Wesley’s new album, which I’ve been planning to order for months. I snatched it up with a smile. Their jazz section was well stocked, as well. The day before, I was in a rock state of mind. Today, I was in my jazz brain. The Sound Garden was only too happy to oblige.
The Sound Garden is my kind of place. I can definitely see myself getting lost in there, for hours on end. I will visit this place again, and I’ll do it soon. I almost missed the sign above me as I left. Not only did it make me laugh, but I accept it as a challenge. Something tells me I could sell a few books here!
If the quality of a city can be based solely on its record stores, then Baltimore is in pretty good shape. I’m hoping to attend a writers conference in Nashville next month. I can only wonder what kind of record stores they offer.
I’m on a plane home tomorrow. Yet I’m already planning a return visit to two pretty cool record shops.