Once upon a time, believe it or not, you could go to the drugstore to eat. People did it all the time. Local drugstores like Triplett-Day in Gulfport had lunch counters, and so did big national chains like Walgreens. You could still eat at some Walgreens locations when I was in elementary school, but in the 1970’s and 1980’s, drugstores began getting rid of their kitchens and dining areas in order to focus on health and beauty aids, which was their core business. The occasional drug store that still had its soda fountain or lunch counter was the subject of news articles and tourist literature. But one drugstore, Brent’s Drugs in Jackson, Mississippi’s Fondren neighborhood decided to do things a little backwards. They got rid of the drugstore, and just kept the lunch counter and soda fountain, and Jacksonians are really glad they did. Breakfast is the main draw at Brent’s, and unlike the other popular local breakfast spot in Jackson, Brent’s is open on Sunday mornings too. Of course, they also serve plenty of lunch items, including burgers, and the interior of the place has been restored into a comfortable, cheery, bright space indeed. At night, the back of the store becomes The Apothecary, arguably Jackson’s best bar, and recently voted one of the South’s best bars. Finally, Brent’s is also a go-to spot for ice cream, milkshakes and floats, perfect for children of all ages…and face it, we’re all children when it comes to ice cream!
When I walked back from my coffee break, singer-songwriters Taylor Hildebrand and Valley Gordon were performing at Morning Bell Records. I was not familiar with them at all, but their music was tuneful and attractive.
Cups Espresso Cafe is the other coffee option in Jackson’s Fondren neighborhood, and the main location of a venerable chain that extends throughout the Jackson area and as far afield as Magee, Mississippi. The coffee is good, and it’s a popular gathering spot.
I wrote about the superb coffee at Jackson’s Sneaky Beans back in January, having stopped there while on my way back to Memphis from New Orleans. This past Saturday, after the Bobby Rush performance at Morning Bell Records, I walked around the corner to Sneaky Beans for a breve latte, and enjoyed a quiet moment there. A Black Keys album was playing over the speakers, sunlight was pouring through the windows, and the door was open to the warmth outside. In the small music section they have under glass, I spied a 5th Child album other than the one I had already purchased, so I bought it before walking back around to Duling School.
Record Store Day proved to be a warm and beautiful day in Jackson, and I headed over to Morning Bell Records in the old Duling School in Fondren to celebrate. The great bluesman Bobby Rush was on hand, performing with just his guitar to an initially-small crowd that grew until the whole store was filled by the end of his hour-long set. He is as much a great raconteur as blues musician, and he held the audience spellbound. There were also limited-edition Bobby Rush compact discs and vinyl albums for sale. I also managed to buy $50 worth of used CD’s (including a Lee “Scratch” Perry boxed set), and a delicious Abita root beer, since Morning Bell sells craft beers and sodas. Outside in the hallway, there were delicious, free pulled-pork sandwiches for Record Store Day revelers.
Jackson, Mississippi has a surprising legacy of an alternate view of what Southern rap could be, from the Stewpot Stowawayz to Wild Life Society, to Us From Dirt, to Crooked Lettaz, and finally to Skipp Coon. So in that regard, the emergence of a new Jackson hip-hop artist like 5th Child is not quite as surprising as it would be elsewhere in the south. First coming to my attention around the same time that Morning Bell Records appeared in Jackson, 5th Child has been a frequent performer there, and elsewhere in Jackson’s ultra-hip Fondren neighborhood, often appearing with a live band. His latest effort, Love Letters & Suicide Notes combines religious faith, a righteous anger at injustice and a healthy dose of funk and soul. The opening “A Word of Advice” sounds like misguided advice that 5th has probably heard over and over again from well-meaning “experts” in his hometown, but it is immediately followed by the title track, which is remarkably upbeat in its call to “Turn the lights up” and dispel the darkness. Most of the remaining tracks, such as “Inspiration” and “Circles” feature 5th’s seemingly-effortless flow over beds of luscious soul, with “Outta Town Girls” providing a moment of lighter romance. But the hardest hitting song is “Black Hoodie”, a tribute to Trayvon Martin, the Black Florida teenager who was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer while wearing a black hoodie. The song opens with a clip from Geraldo Rivera’s stupid television comments that the hoodie was responsible for Martin’s death, and presents a grim reminder that any Black youth could easily become Trayvon Martin. Altogether, Love Letters & Suicide Notes was a welcome introduction to the music of 5th Child, who likely will remain an important voice in Southern hip-hop. Like him on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/5th-Child/153655217998666, or follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/5thchildMusic. You can also visit him on Bandcamp at http://5thchildmusic.bandcamp.com/ or buy this album on iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/love-letters-suicide-notes/id559793203