Mississippi Records, tucked away on Mississippi Avenue in the North part of Portland, Oregon, isn’t a typical record store. It opened its doors about a decade ago, as stores dedicated to selling music in physical form were facing mass extinction, and it’s still doing just fine. Its stock consists almost entirely of vinyl LPs and singles, new and old—although there’s also a section devoted to cassette tapes, and a selection of used turntables resting on wooden shelves near the counter. (CDs? Maybe three or four are in the store at any given time, always by local Portland artists.)
But the store’s devotion to vinyl doesn’t stop at stocking records—it also makes them. Mississippi’s in-house record label, founded seven years ago and run by the store’s owner, Eric Isaacson, has released a long string of remarkable LPs, whose sleeves cover the store’s walls. Aside from the occasional release of new or archival recordings by local musicians like Tara Jane O’Neil and Michael Hurley, the label reissues music by singular artists from all over the world—the Scottish punk band Dog Faced Hermans, the early 1970s Malian group Orchestre Regional de Kayes, the Texan oil-drum player George Coleman—as well as a signature series of compilations of gospel, blues, and international music from the prewar era to the present.
Many of Mississippi’s releases—especially those compilations—share a distinct design sensibility, with mysterious, slightly sloppy-looking collages, awkwardly handwritten text often appearing in place of type, and a near-total absence of promotional folderol. They also have the kinds of deluxe physical materials that have been almost totally absent from record manufacturing for decades. All of that reflects Isaacson’s personal sensibility. Most of the handwriting and design are his. The look of Mississippi’s original releases reflects what a guy who has worked in used-record stores for most of his adult life believes great records should look like.