Playing For Keeps

Big Twist & The Mellow Fellows

Alligator, 1983

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


If there was any band following the death of John Belushi who might have been able to keep the spirit of the Blues Brothers alive, it was Big Twist & The Mellow Fellows. Led by Larry “Big Twist” Nolan, they built up a reputation with their live shows, some of which was able to translate onto their studio efforts.

Playing For Keeps was the sole studio effort that Big Twist & The Mellow Fellows recorded for Alligator Records, and while it’s a decent enough effort, it still has the lingering feeling that something got lost in translation.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Nolan’s husky, smoky voice lends the perfect balance to the style of music that the Mellow Fellows play—not a strict blues band like one might expect from the label, but one with some good r&b and soul influences. The Blues Brothers reference is due to the horn section of Terry Ogolini, Jim Exum, Don Tenuto and Paul Howard (not to mention the guest appearance by saxophonist Steve Eisen).

To call the Mellow Fellows simply a good-time band, based on songs like “300 Pounds Of Heavenly Joy” and their cover of “Polk Salad Annie,” however, would do them a great disservice, as the band is able to cross over to many different styles and emotions. Tracks like “I Want Your Love,” “Pouring Water on A Drowning Man” and “Just One Woman” (the last track featuring a slightly different lineup) show the versatility of the group.

If Playing For Keeps suffers from any major setback, it’s that it doesn’t quite capture what people raved about in the band’s live shows. The performances are good, but they lack a bit of the spontaneity one could have expected from the music. This doesn’t mean the music is bad, or that the album isn’t worthy of your investment of money and time. It simply means that, to this reviewer at least, it’s an incomplete picture of just who the Mellow Fellows were when fronted by Nolan.

It’s still well worth checking Playing For Keeps out, and you’re certain to find many songs you’ll probably end up going back to repeatedly. Perhaps, had Nolan not died in 1990, they would have found the perfect way to bottle their stage presence in the studio. As fate would have it, Playing For Keeps was the final studio effort from the band under Nolan’s leadership, and still is an interesting listen.

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2022 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Alligator, and is used for informational purposes only.