Besides the downtown music mega-stores, Toronto is crowded with great independently-owned shops stuffed with cool CDs and vinyl. Here's where to find...
AFRO SOUND 878 Bloor West, 416-536-4666.
While the big chains have surprisingly comprehensive stocks of African music, the cozy Afro Sound shop is a gold mine of small-label and independently released gems from across the continent. The focus is on Ethiopian artists -- some of the city's best Ethiopian restaurants are on the same block -- but there are also super-heavy grooves from Nigeria, South Africa, the Congo and beyond.
Tip: Check the flyers and posters in the store. May of the artists whose records are on display regularly play Toronto, and this -- except for NOW -- is the only place you'll hear about it.
New/used vintage blues, deep soul and R&B
BACKBEAT 2071 Yonge, 416-545-0895.
Smack dab at the midpoint between the Davisville and Eglinton subway stops on Yonge, BackBeat is the hot spot for recently reissued blues, soul, R&B and classic roots country and rock 'n' roll CDs. If you're looking for James Carr's Goldwax sessions or Red Simpson's trucker songs, you'll find them here along with a surprisingly good assortment of jazz, gospel, reggae and some excellent used vinyl.
Tip: BackBeat will often stock U.S. import copies of major-label re-releases weeks before the domestic version hits the streets.
Ridiculously rare Brazilian, funk and Blue Note jazz
COSMOS RECORDS 607 Queen West, 416-603-0254.
Sure, the records can be pricey, but Cosmos is still the place to go when you absolutely must have an original copy of that monstrous Brazilian batucada bomb you heard Rainer Trüby drop at a Movement party. The tiny Queen West shop is packed tight with a museum-quality selection of highly sought-after artifacts from the 60s and 70s. But check the bins at the rear for classic jazz LPs priced to sell.
Tip: If your favourite DJ is flying in for a weekend gig, you may see him emptying his wallet at Cosmos Friday afternoon.
Used folk, country, Celtic and rock vinyl
DISCOVERY USED & COLLECTORS RECORDS 1140 Queen East, 416-778-6394.
Often overlooked, Discovery, on Queen near Jones, is one of Toronto's oldest used record shops, and, true to it's name, it's still the best place in town to uncover an oddball vinyl rarity for far less than European collector prices. Other stores may boast better stock on current releases, but few, if any, can match Discovery for maintaining a consistent supply of top-quality long-out-of-print folk, blues, country, rock and soundtrack LPs.
Tip: Don't test the patience of the quiet man behind the desk. Trust me on this one.
The killer club track you heard at 3 this morning
EASTERN BLOC 224 Adelaide West, 416-593-4355.
A club-culture record store run by DJs, stocking the newest and best in jungle, house, techno and trance as well as the flyers for the parties and events that matter. Their excellent Web site (www.easternbloc.com) lets you preview the tunes online before you buy.
Tip: Wait patiently to use the turntable, and don't hog the needle.
PLAY DE RECORD 357 A Yonge, 416-586-0380.
If a bomb dropped on Play De Record Thursday afternoon at around 5 pm, you'd wipe out most of the city's top DJs. The cluttered shop nestled behind a convenience store filled with knives and porno is the city's best place to find the latest in hiphop as well as house, techno, disco, soul jazz and new Brazilian music. It's a beat freak's paradise, and now that the shop is owned by Movement's Dee Jay Nav and Jason Palma, expect the crates to get even deeper.
Tip: Don't be slack. If you see something, buy it or it'll be gone by tomorrow.
Funky beats and breaks
RIC COLLECTIBLES 155 Main, 416-690-6399.
Located way over in the east end, Ric Collectibles, aka "Rick's," may be a bit off the beaten path, but over the past couple of years this over-stuffed shop near the corner of Main and Gerrard has become one of the city's main attractions for hiphop producers, club DJs and other serious breakspotters desperate to uncover fresh sample sources. The steady stream of dealer scavengers who used to hoover up the choice pieces for pennies has moved on since the price tags began to more accurately reflect market demand, but that just leaves a better selection for the informed crate-digger.
Tip: Disco, trance and house hounds should ask to see the enormous stash of 12-inch singles hidden in the basement.
Music you've read about in MOJO
SOUNDSCAPES 572 College, 416-537-1620.
The closest thing in Toronto to the music-geek paradise in High Fidelity, Soundscapes carries a tasteful, diverse stock of CDs everyone should own, from twang and soul to hiphop and Kraut rock. Shelves are broken up by style, label and position on MOJO's top-100-records-of-all-time list, and ultra-commercial garbage is at an absolute minimum.
Tip: Check the top-10 lists and reviews posted around the store for some out-of-the-way must-buys.
Used current CDs by contemporary artists at reasonable prices
VORTEX 2309 Yonge, 416-483-7437.
Word is out that the high turnover at Vortex enables the store at Yonge and Eglinton (the Vortex on Queen West is a completely separate operation) to pay higher and sell lower than most other used-disc vendors. So while there's a constant influx of desirable titles by contemporary rock, punk, pop, jazz, blues and world music artists, that also means you need to go there regularly if you want to score the best stuff. The knowledgeable and friendly staff and top-notch selection of used discs and vinyl keep Vortex's many satisfied customers coming back.
Tip: It could save you a lot of time and money to check Vortex for that import CD before placing an order through one of the big chain stores.