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Not Just Vinyl

Houston's Top 5 record stores.

Only in Houston

5. Heights Vinyl (3122 White Oak, www.heightsvinyl.com)

Houston's newest record store opened in late 2011 and has quickly climbed the ranks, winning "Best Vinyl Shop" in the 2012 Houston Press Best of Houston® awards and establishing itself as a serious pickers' destination.

Sound Exchange on Richmond has never stocked major-label product,  and never will.
Marc Brubaker
Sound Exchange on Richmond has never stocked major-label product, and never will.
Cactus Music is also an art gallery and frequent in-store venue.
Marc Brubaker
Cactus Music is also an art gallery and frequent in-store venue.

Owner Craig Brown is meticulous in caring for his stock, ensuring that every used record is cleaned, re-sleeved and bagged before hitting the shelves. The High Noon Stage hosts in-store appearances and acoustic performances, which are often accompanied by free adult beverages. The pricing model is a bit unorthodox — records are categorized into price ranges (named for the characters in Reservoir Dogs) — which can result in a bit of confusion. For those with an armload of finds, it can be a chance to strike a deal.

Heights Vinyl also has a surplus of vintage turntable and sound equipment and a huge back stock of cartridges, and Brown will go to great lengths to track down whatever parts are needed to repair your turntable or simply tune it up to make sure it's in proper working order.

4. Sound Exchange (1846 Richmond, www.soundexchangehouston.com)

Down on Richmond Avenue in a small two-story Montrose house sits Sound Exchange, a bastion for the local musician. In business since 1977 – although it has changed locations several times through the years — this fiercely independent record store does it all, except carry major labels.

They'll fix your turntable, host your band for an in-store, help you track down records and even sell your music, no matter how ridiculous the packaging. There are bins of dollar records in the back for digging through, rare releases stretching along the walls, a large selection of local music that spans decades at this point, and bins of sorted vinyl stock, all worth a picker's time.

3. Sig's Lagoon (3622-E Main, www.sigslagoon.com)

Run by the lovable Tomas Escalante, this eclectic record store benefits from being surrounded by cool bars and music venues. Dealing in a swath of vintage vinyl, toys, tiki mugs and more, Sig's is a small joint that's packed to the rafters. Seriously, prints are crawling up the walls, and a trek up the stairs leads to another landing jam-packed with more records.

Escalante also brings in new stock and re-pressings, including pretty much everything from the Norton Records catalog. Sig's is a bit too tiny to host in-store appearances, but there's always great music-related art crowding the walls, and the depth of the stock is surprising. You could even snag a gem and a tiki mug and take them next door to Double Trouble, play the record and score a drink. Sig's also garners bonus points for being open until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

2. Vinal Edge (239 W. 19th, www.vinaledge.com)

Once an Outer-Loop destination, Vinal Edge finally made the jump into the Heights in the summer of 2012. Owned by Chuck Roast — one of Houston's most knowledgeable music lovers and certainly one of the most interesting with whom to converse — the store now resides on 19th Street.

The larger space gives Roast the opportunity to hold more in-store appearances, and has provided more breathing room for those navigating its ample supply of records. The selection is one of the most diverse clusters you'll find, and more stock is constantly arriving. Subscribers to the shop's e-mail list will also know that Roast occasionally releases some of his personal collection for sale, and alerts customers when newly acquired collections hit the floor for the first time.

1. Cactus Music & Video (2110 Portsmouth, www.cactusmusictx.com)

The standout favorite among Houston's fine music dealers is Cactus Music, which has something for everyone. There's a litany of in-store performances gracing the calendar, with free-flowing Saint Arnold beer accompanying each one. The Record Ranch performs double-duty operations as both vinyl digging grounds and an art gallery.

Cactus's staff is chock-full of friendly folks with an abundance of musical knowledge, from owner Quinn Bishop down to the many local musicians who work behind the counter. Stock is plentiful, there are giveaways and you can even buy tickets for local concerts.

It's hard to imagine someone walking out empty-handed, because there's such an astounding variety and depth to the stock. Cactus has been a frequent Best of Houston® winner and certainly for good reason, so stop by already.

See stores No. 6-10 on the Web at http://blogs.houstonpress.com/rocks/houstons_top_10_record_stores.php.
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The Rocks Off 100

Girl from the North Country
Singer-songwriter Shellee Coley joins our ring of honor.

Jef with One F

Who?

Shellee Coley is a folksinger from Houston's northern suburbs who crafts some of the city's finest acoustic music. Her first EP, The Girl the Stencil Drew, was a stripped-down, soft piece of poetry that hinted at fantastic things to come. This time last year, she let loose with a full-length release, Where It Began, that was one of the best albums of 2012. With a voice like wind through dead trees and some really fantastic Southern-Gothic despair in her approach, she remains one of our treasures.

It's big-folks music that will appeal to the grown-ups. Coley's angsts and desires are not the feelings of teenagers but the laments of parents and spouses, good stuff that you won't regret checking out for a second. If nothing else, download her ode to the beautiful insanity of daughters in "Conversations with Z." The song will have you tearing up if you have even only the tiniest sliver of humanity.

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