''What about this one?" asks the exquisitely groomed New Yorker as she puts a copy of Arielle Dombasle's ''Amor Amor" in front of Felix Cutillo's face.
''No mom, you have to get this one," says her daughter, anxiously grabbing a copy of Pink Martini's ''Hang On Little Tomato."
It's nearly closing time on a Friday night at chic clothing store Louis Boston, and a feeding frenzy has erupted at the store's Music Bar. The mother-daughter pair are about to begin the long drive back to Manhattan and need music, badly. With all the subtlety of contestants on ''The Price Is Right," the women frantically snatch up CDs, all the while quizzing Cutillo on the best music for driving through the wilderness known as Connecticut.
Meanwhile, another pair of women are trying to determine if a Carla Bruni album will satisfy their hankering for fresh music, while a pair of rakish men of indeterminate European descent inquire about the latest volume of the Buddha Bar series.
In the middle of the snarl is Music Bar programmer and DJ Cutillo, calmly switching CDs and patiently making recommendations to his frantic flock. The Virgin Megastore, located just a few blocks up Newbury Street, is open for another five hours and has thousands more titles than the Music Bar. But that matters little to Cutillo's fans, who are intent on using these remaining five minutes for advice on which CDs should be playing in their BMWs or uploaded into their iPods.
''The big music stores have listening stations, but they don't introduce you to things you might be interested in hearing," says Louis Boston president Debi Greenberg. ''Having someone sit there and say 'I've got the greatest CD. Do you want to listen to this?' is invaluable to people."
The atmosphere at the Music Bar is similar to a listening party in someone's living room, only it happens to be located in the grand foyer of the Back Bay store. The gregarious Cutillo serves as the cultural minister of this scene, presiding over a long glass counter filled with approximately 100 titles he has personally chosen, everything from delicate French songbirds such as Keren Ann and Françoise Hardy to less mannered discs from the Clash and Loretta Lynn.
''This is the new frontier in music retailing," Cutillo, 39, says over vegetable tempura a few weeks later. ''People are not gravitating toward big music chains because they feel overwhelmed when they walk in. I have a whole legion of people buying music who never bought music before. To me that's everything. It's like introducing someone to good food or a good bottle of wine."
The gentleman introducing Boston's bon ton to an eclectic, down-tempo lounge mix did not develop his sublime musical taste working as a DJ in the lobby of the Hotel Costes or at exclusive Miami loft parties. Cutillo is a former punk rocker from East Boston. His first DJ gig entailed dragging his Zenith record player across the street to a friend's house in the late 1970s and playing his brother's Led Zeppelin records. And unlike most budding DJs, Cutillo showed no interest in dance music as a teenager.
''I grew up in East Boston, which is an Italian disco haven, for lack of a better term," he says. ''I hated what was being played on the radio. And then I discovered the Clash, and the album 'London Calling' changed my life."
He and some like-minded friends formed a punk band called Miss October's Children. But when punk started evolving into a corporate entity and became more about fashion than politics in the 1980s, Cutillo abandoned the genre and embarked on a career as a DJ, playing postpunk dance and pop from acts such as New Order, the Pixies, and the Pet Shop Boys.
''I remember saying 'All I want to do is be around music. I don't care what I do, as long as I'm around music, I'll be happy,' " he says. ''I made a deal with God."
Whether it was divine intervention or luck, Cutillo's DJ career took off. In the late '80s and early '90s he turned to European house music but remained stubborn about peppering his sets with music that other DJs deemed unfashionable. He would drop old Parliament records in between the house music, but when other DJs began playing Parliament, he would quickly move on to something else.
''I would always play something that nobody would expect," he says. ''I was a rebel."
Soon, Cutillo was resident DJ at the Roxy and playing most clubs in Boston. In 1990, he opened one of the first record stores in the country aimed exclusively at DJs. The store, called Boston Beat, began in East Boston and moved to Newbury Street four years later. Cutillo also started his own record label to release compilations of his own music.
But after almost 20 years of spinning, Cutillo didn't like the direction the DJ world was taking. He felt that big-name DJs were turning it into an industry, not a craft. At the same time, he experienced another life-changing musical moment: He heard the music of legendary French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg.
''As much as I thought I knew about music, I knew nothing about music," he says. ''The first time I heard Serge Gainsbourg I said 'Where have I been? I've missed a lot of music.' That's when I realized that I needed to do away with my cool exterior. I was an elitist in my own little dance world, but Serge Gainsbourg really changed this for me."
By 2002, Cutillo had sold Boston Beat and was losing interest in playing hip-hop for college students. Meanwhile, Louis Boston was looking for a way to make its imposing store more accessible to shoppers. Attempts to bring in techno DJs left some shoppers feeling intimidated. But Cutillo's blend of Latin lounge, French pop, and classics from more established names such as the Supremes and Johnny Cash struck a chord with customers browsing the high-end couture.
''We've had different incarnations of the first floor where we were trying to achieve a welcoming feeling," Greenberg says. ''No one has been able to do it as well as he has. Does the Music Bar pay for itself? Yes. Does it makes tons of money? No, but what we get out of it is an affability that people find priceless."
The formula also seems to be working for Cutillo, who clearly enjoys talking about music with customers and turning them on to the music he loves. He recently released his own CD, a compilation called ''Louis Boston Music Bar," which features some of his favorite rarities.
''I think when people first approach the Music Bar, they think there's some music snob back there," he says. ''But I'm not one of these guys who professes to know everything about music. I just love music. Most people love it too, but sometimes they just need some help to learn what's out there."
Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org