Spin the silver circle

Yeah, I still love record stores.

And despite any so-called conventional wisdom that these palaces of music retail are as dead as slot-car tracks or bong emporiums, and that most people these days prefer to buy their music online at Apple’s iTunes store or download it for free, I still think there’s nothing like walking into a well-stocked store and thumbing through the selection. And there’s nothing like the kinds of random discoveries you can stumble across while doing that.

Of course, having spent a couple of decades working for the late, lamented Tower Records chain, I have a particular affection for the retail approach pioneered by Russ Solomon. And, not to slight such other fine independent retailers in town—Dimple Records, the Beat and more—but I think Solomon’s new venture, R5 Records/Video, which occupies the old location of Tower’s 16th Street and Broadway store, is tops. In many ways it’s much better than the Tower store it replaced, especially Tower in the last five or 10 years of its existence: R5 goes a lot deeper on independent label, pop-music titles than late-period Tower did, a lot of that due to the new store’s whip-smart buyer, Dal Basi, a Tower veteran. And R5 continues Tower’s tradition of going deep on classical music, which is welcome news to those of us with non-warhorse tastes that often aren’t satiated by such book retailers as Borders and Barnes & Noble.

R5 also has an expanding selection of local artists, which are racked in their respective sections; this is what distinguishes a really good indie record store (and kudos to other retailers in town that carry music by our talented local artist pool).

Solomon’s new store, which opened in June, will stage a two-day grand opening party this weekend, Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 7 p.m., with lots of local acts. Saturday’s tentative lineup will include performances by Mumbo Gumbo, Trainwreck Revival, No Admission, Young Aundee, Jake Mann, Garrett Pierce, the Proles, the Action Design, the Snobs, Sexrat, the Helper Monkeys, Secretions and Red Tape. Sunday’s lineup will likely include Rusty Zinn, Sherman Baker, Nowheres, the Refinery, Iguanadon, Pets, Hot Pistol, and Dungeons & Drag Queens. There also will be free giveaways, free food (while it lasts) and “party pricing on everything.” For more info, you can check the store’s MySpace page at www.myspace.com/r5records.

On a hot afternoon last week, I stopped by R5 and sat down with the amiable Solomon to catch up. One topic that came up was how to sell CDs in the age of downloads, especially since a music retailer is naturally dependent on hooking kids on the joys of physically buying records when they’re more used to downloading. Tower succeeded because all those kids in the 1960s who bought 45 singles graduated to buying albums, and later CDs. These days, Solomon and his staff face a much more pitched uphill battle. That said, he’s pretty confident his new venture has the right stuff. “If we can get people in,” he said, “they’ll come back.” My hunch is that he’s correct there.

Oh, and you can find Hell Bent For Heaven’s Witch Pricker album, mentioned last week in this space, at R5, and also at Dimple and the Beat.