Ben Harper and John Butler Release CDs Cut at Twist & Shout

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Since opening in October 2006, Twist & Shout's Lowenstein Center HQ, at 2508 East Colfax, has earned loads of praise from locals like us. Now, folks well beyond the metro area will begin to learn the store's name thanks to a pair of high-profile releases recorded live in Twist's terrific performance space -- a CD by Australian singer/guitarist John Butler and a CD/DVD starring Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals.

According to Twist owner Paul Epstein, both packages are part of a program initiated by the Coalition of Independent Music Stores (CIMS), a retail group devoted to promoting and preserving what were once known as mom and pop record shops. Plenty of artists who grew up loving such joints are showing their support for this cause by allowing Junketboy.com, CIMS's distribution arm, to release one-off products exclusively at independent retailers. Examples include a live EP by Interpol and, most prominently, Amoeba's Secret, a four-song slab of vinyl from none other than Paul McCartney that's guaranteed to become a sought-after collector's item.

As part of this project, Epstein and his staff have been recording in-stores by the likes of Butler, whose new disc, Live at Twist & Shout, recorded on June 29, features intense versions of "Used to Get High," "Treat Yo Mama" and other numbers well-known to his cult-size fan base. Still, the Harper set is the real coup. "We've been after Ben Harper for a long time," Epstein concedes, adding, "I don't know how we got so lucky." Indeed, Harper and his band not only allowed the audio from their August 30 visit to be professionally recorded, but they also gave the go-ahead for an elaborate, six-camera video shoot overseen by Music Link's Mike Drumm. The results are revelatory. The versions of "Fool For a Lonesome Train," "Needed You Tonight" and "In the Colors" included on the Harper offering, also called Live at Twist & Shout, actually surpass those heard on his most recent studio platter, Lifeline. Moreover, the accompanying DVD is of so high a quality that Harper fanatics will be beside themselves with glee.

More specials are on the way. Epstein reveals that a session by erstwhile Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbell, who cut loose at Twist earlier in November, is already in the can, and a recording by a vintage band that's never done an in-store appearance before should be finalized soon. Oh yeah: When Tool was recently in town for a Pepsi Center appearance, frontman Maynard James Keenan stopped in and seemed intrigued by the prospect of putting on a show there, too.

Of course, that's no guarantee Tool boosters will soon get the chance to watch Keenan wail from ten yards away while leaning against a rack of 45s. But it's an indication that Twist & Shout is rapidly becoming one of the country's hippest alternative venues. -- Michael Roberts

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