Spending time with Toronto’s Soul Man

There are a lot of places to find new music.

Spotify. Pitchfork. HBO TV shows.

But sometimes it’s best to put your faith in humanity. One such human is Hisa Hatanaka. I met Hisa five or six years ago on Queen Street West. In my mind, he’s forever stationed behind the counter of a tiny shop called Cosmos Records.

Albums at Cosmos aren’t cheap — although there are cheaper records. On my last visit, I spotted a copy of Betty Davis’ They Say I’m Different, which is rare. The price tag wasn’t visible. Hisa told me it was $120. I told him I’d have to do some extra chores before I’d ask him to remove it from the wall.

Hisa and others stock that tiny record store with soul, rock, hip-hop, r&b and more. This isn’t the place to grab Motown reissues. It’s a portal to the past. That comes at a higher price but the bonus is an experienced guide.

Sometimes I arrive searching for something specific. Other times I let my fingers and eyes skim through the albums. And sometimes I ask Hisa.

That’s how I discovered Prince Phillip Mitchell and Top of The Line. Hisa knows I like funk and b-side soul artists. I’m talking about the artists that wrote hit songs and played on hit songs (for other people). Few b-siders get called one name (Stevie, Smokey, Ella, Aretha). And I love ’em for that. I’m fascinated by the story of how they didn’t succeed despite their greatness.

Top of The Line is a fun album. There are some hilarious lines and throughout the music is funky and soulful.

And that’s the reason I’ll return to Cosmos again. I would never have found that record without Hisa. Even when I don’t buy a record, it’s nice to pick his brain. He remembers me. I recommend you visit Hisa. Tell him what you like and let him point you to something special.

Once I asked Hisa what he listens to. I should have anticipated his answer: he’s a soul man.

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