I recently found myself taking a trip to Greenville, South Carolina for the first time in about eight years to take in a show about 90 minutes away from home. On my last trip there, the were two rather good record stores and, gloryoski, there’re still there in these, the end times! Well, the end time for record stores, at least. How do they measure up after nearly a decade of hard fought survival tactics?
I found some good things at Horizon Records in 2004. I recall the store was a hotbed of King Crimson worship at that time, but frankly, every record store in the extended Western North Carolina region was. Any place that sold silvery discs had a fat section with a plethora of Crimson and related releases. KC kicked off their last tour in Asheville. There was probably a good reason for that. A good score the last time, apart from the then-new (final) King Crimson album was a sealed copy of the first album by The Bears (Adrian Belew pop band) that was seriously OOP.
When I approached the door this time I saw a poster for the new Andre Williams album, “Hoods + Shades,” on the door. Great google moogly! Inside the ravages of eight years passage barely showed. There were still balanced proportions of vinyl and CD and they still had the glass-walled classical listening area, where the crude bleatings of rock and roll in the chord of E could be muffled for the delicate ears of the browsing cognoscenti. This was a feature I’d often see in Tower Records, back in the day, but never in an indie store. This gave us insight into the owner’s mindset here.
I entered and immediately found a featured release behind the counter; the new John Cale EP [“Extra Playful”] in a rare hard copy version! Even better, this was the exclusive “Black Friday” edition, with two bonus tracks, bringing the song count up to seven. I did not even have a clue, but I was very happy to buy this. As far as I knew from Cale’s site, this was a download only item with five tracks. I made sure to browse all of the stock since I had the time and it was obvious that this store’s status as a record mecca had in no way deteriorated in the ensuing eight years since my last visit.
I checked out the CD bins first and was touched to see that Don Dixon got his own title card in the bins. Better still, the section was fat with stock! When I see Don Dixon perform in Asheville, the sparse turnout causes me pain, but obviously, just 90 miles away, he may get the hero’s welcome that deserves. I saw a lot of CDs that I didn’t need but found one set that I’d given up all hope of ever finding: Grace Jones’ 2xCD “Private Life: The Compass Point Sessions.” And I found it used. Sacre cour! What idiot would have rid himself of this little gem? I’d given up all hope of ever getting a copy by any other means than mail order, yet here it was for <$10! If you don’t know, it’s filled with a significant amount of rare and unreleased mixes from Ms. Jones’ crucial ’80-’83 period. Cherry picked classics you should already have on your racks, fill roughly 45% of the program. If you could only have a single Grace Jones release, this is that release. It’s that kind of album!
I saw the vinyl next, and while there were no releases that I needed, that didn’t mean that there were no releases that I didn’t want. To clarify, how many times do you find a copy of Gary Numan’s “This Wreckage” UK 7″ from 1980 for sale at $4.00 for the privilege? Sure, I have the Japanese “Asylum” BSOGs, so this track and its B-side [“Photograph” since you asked] were in my Record Cell for over 20 years, but still…!! I can’t recall ever seeing a copy of this disc! Another vinyl release that I probably should have bought was the debut album by Georgia’s finest ever band, Lave Love, was there for the taking. “Whole Lave Love” was produced by Mitch Easter and it features the unfettered and exuberant singing of the ebullient Ms. Esta Hill, whim I’ve had the privilege of seeing both with this band and Hillbilly Frankenstein, on numerous occasions. Alas, Ms. Hill seems to have retired from singing, but the evidence of her prowess as contained within this release alone will serve to inspire generations of other vocalists to attempt to follow in her footsteps [I hope]. Fortunately, she is capably matched by her bandmates, who have created a perfect object in this album.
After buying the Cale and Jones, I headed to Earshot. When I was last here, in 2004, this was a part of the regional Manifest chain. They’ve since been rebranded as Earshot, but when I stepped into the store, it still seemed like a Manifest store. That is to say, decent amounts of vinyl rubbed shoulders with CDs and DVDs, with pop culture tchatkes taking up valuable space better used for music sales [grrrr].
I scanned the vinyl first and saw many, rare and wonderful things… well priced, I might add, that have long been acquired for my Record Cell. The Peter Gabriel 12″ at left I had to resort to mail order to obtain about six years ago. In fact, someone must have unloaded a nice PG collection, since there were other 12″ers [which I own but never see in stores] filling the “G” section. Like Horizon, there was nothing that I needed as much as wanted on principle, so I ended up turning my attention to the CD bins next. Would you believe I found another Grace Jones 2xCD that I was wanting for sale? I had not seen her 2009 “comeback” album, “Hurricane” in any store yet but here was the 2011 US re-issue with a bonus disc of dub mixes, all for $14.99. I snatched that puppy up without a second thought!
The rest of the CD stock was fascinating to browse, because 90% of it was contemporary material by bands I had never heard of, much less heard. The Monk is an old guy, who eschews much of contemporary culture by choice. It was fascinating to see how music retailing ca. 2012 is shaping up at a successful brick + mortar store. The bins, were largely alien to me, and the stuff I recognized in significant number was basically old, “classic rock” material I’m largely immune to. Pink Floyd. Jimi Hendrix. Hell, even their Bowie section was paltry! [-shock!] So when I came across a Stephen Duffy/Lilac Time section with title card, I emptied it out lickety split! I love Duffy but never see his stuff in-store anywhere! I got the most recent Lilac Time album [“Runout Groove”] and the EP released from it.
I spent a little more at Earshot, but I have to say I preferred the vibe of Horizon overall. At Horizon, you won’t see “action figures” and novelties assaulting your eyes in a vain attempt to reach dead souls who do not respond to music. There’s more respect for the music there and the owner is a much more talkative and engaging fellow than the youth who rang me up at Earshot. But of course, if you ever find yourself in Greenville, South Carolina, by all means visit them both. Your mileage may vary but the availability of vinyl that I already had or didn’t need speaks well for both stores.
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