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In the Round

Where to go in Sonoma County to buy, sell and trade music

By Karl Byrn

Sure, you can buy just about anything from the Internet. But what does it smell like? How does it look in the light at different times of the day? Did the clerk have anything intriguing to share?

Online shopping is fine, but traditional shelf-cruising remains a satisfying experience, particularly when shopping for entertainment. Amazon.com has not made bookstores become extinct any more than videos have made movie theaters disappear. Though the debate on file-sharing rages, it's ridiculous to imagine that downloading will kill the thrill of thumbing through your local record store.

Here's a survey of Sonoma County's best independent music/DVD stores. Yes, you can imply guilt by omission--the chain stores are utterly useless (except for Borders, with its diverse selection and dozens of listening stations).

The Last Record Store (1899-A Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, 707.525.1963) has made its homegrown motto "This Ain't No Chain Store!" into the standard of the very best record-store qualities. A fixture in downtown Santa Rosa for 20 years, the store relocated last year to a somewhat larger spot near Santa Rosa Junior College. With the move followed the loyal customers, as did the terrific overall selection, hip environment and a staff so knowledgeable and dedicated that they take the time to add reviews to the staff-favorites rack. The Last Record Store remains a local culture center, selling tickets to the best local shows and even hosting in-store performances by such acts as Camper Van Beethoven.

You'll also get the top deal on CD trades here, up to $7 for strong titles, and therefore the used CD selection is always choice and reliable. For new CDs, Last is particularly deep in indie rock, jazz, reggae and folk/bluegrass. A growing music DVD section also hits the right titles--and, yes, you can find a great selection of "records" here.

Along with the largest sheer volume of used CDs, Backdoor Disc and Tape (7665 Old Redwood Hwy., Cotati, 707.795.9597) has the most extensive and thorough selection of new music. They're outstanding in hip-hop and blues, and seem to have no weaknesses in the nonclassical genres. The presentation is also attractively top-notch, from bestselling new-release-by-genre racks to multiple listening stations to clever use of promotional cardboard standups.

Though not offering top dollar for trades or dealing in LPs at all, Backdoor will often openly take most of what you have to trade in disc, and will even deal in tapes. You can trade in DVDs, too. Backdoor's DVD selection includes used and new, offering a sweet mix of hip movies and select music video.

For the pure thrill of hanging out in a record store, time is well-spent at Incredible Records and CDs (112 N. Main St., Sebastopol, 707.824.8099). Any worthwhile record store fills its walls with posters, photos and flyers from a classic rock past, but Incredible Records is an awesome museum worthy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. On display (and for sale, if you're serious) are guitars signed by B. B. King and Mick Jagger, original rock artwork, original Rolling Stone magazines, a bevy of odd acoustic stringed instruments and the cream of the rock poster/photo field. Most of the jaw-dropping stuff is literally museum-quality, which means that what is affordable for the average shopper is an exquisite and enormous selection of superb vintage posters.

Though Incredible offers a huge (if hit-and-miss) LP inventory, they don't take LPs as trade-ins. Used CDs are bought fairly and selectively; a solid mix of mostly new and some used discs features the county's most dominant and diverse world-music selection, down to West County specialties like a "Pagan/Goddess" section.

The Clove (1222 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, 707.528.6011) is appropriately located smack-dab across from Santa Rosa High School. Two specialties make the Clove stand out: its a great source for DVDs, and, more importantly, the store offers the county's absolute best LP selection and resource for DJ mix, 12-inch and breakbeat vinyl. One clue? The listening station is two turntables.

There's also a great selection of used VHS tapes at the Clove. Movies may take a somewhat higher bill over music here, but the used/new CD mix of rock-jazz-blues basics features a superior and detailed selection of heavy metal.

In Petaluma, Discoveries Music and More (5 Fourth St., Petaluma, 707.778.3898) gets credit for being the only player in town. Discoveries features an odd assortment of used product--CDs are almost an afterthought--but there's an enormous and impressive selection of used VHS and books on tape, and once again, the LP selection offers what you want.

Close to Sonoma State University is Earth Wave Records and CDs (1451 Southwest Blvd. #123, Rohnert Park, 707.795.1660). The huge and thorough LP selection outshines a spotty CD section, but both areas are complemented by a strong focus on rarities, DJ tracks and Japanese imports.

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From the September 1-7, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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