A Period of Transition

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A Period of Transition
Studio album by Van Morrison
Released April 1977
Recorded Autumn 1976/early winter 1977
Genre Folk rock, R&B
Length 34:12
Label Warner Bros.
Producer Van Morrison, Dr. John
Van Morrison chronology
Veedon Fleece
(1974)
A Period of Transition
(1977)
Wavelength
(1978)
Singles from A Period of Transition
  1. "The Eternal Kansas City" b/w "Joyous Sound"
    Released: April 1977
  2. "Joyous Sound" b/w "Mechanical Bliss"
    Released: July 1977

A Period of Transition is the ninth studio album by Northern Irish singer/songwriter Van Morrison, released in 1977 (see 1977 in music). It was his first album in two and a half years, largely forgotten or looked over by most casual fans. At the time of its release it was received with some disappointment by critics and fans: "Most were hoping for a work of primeval vocal aggression that would challenge the emerging élite of Morrison pretenders, whose ranks included Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, Phil Lynott, Graham Parker and Elvis Costello."[1](Johnny Rogan) However, the album is still notable for several major compositions, including "Heavy Connection," "Flamingos Fly," "The Eternal Kansas City" and "Cold Wind in August".

Morrison had appeared in The Last Waltz with Mac Rebennack (Dr. John) who was a co-producer on this album as well as playing keyboards and guitar.

Recording[edit]

Clinton Heylin remarks on "Flamingos Fly" and "Joyous Sound": "Just seven songs were recorded [for A Period of Transition] and two of these had already been cut at the Record Plant back in 1975."[2] Both of these versions were included on the 1998 compilation album, The Philosopher's Stone. "Flamingos Fly" was also recorded in 1973 with Jackie DeShannon and appeared on her album Jackie... Plus, along with three other original Morrison compositions from that recording session. It didn't take Morrison long to play the song in concert — a week after the recording session on 18 April 1973, the song featured in a concert in Los Angeles at the Shrine Auditorium. This performance remains the only known live version of the song.[3]

Composition[edit]

"You Gotta Make It Through the World" is according to Morrison, "a survival song". Dr. John felt that it had "a real spiritual sound".[4] "It Fills You Up" is an attempt by the singer to explain the inspirational spirit that is often found in his music. "The Eternal Kansas City" is according to Dr. John "the song that Van got the whole album hooked up around. It was a real deep thing for him to focus on. It goes from a real ethereal voice sound to a jazz introduction and then into a kind of chunky R & B."[4] The song, "Joyous Sound" is described by Brian Hinton as "more like the real Van as he starts to wail and the lyrics describe themselves."[4] Morrison said of the track, "Flamingos Fly", "I've done three versions in the studio. I've done it slow, a ballad version. I've done a mid-tempo version and I've done this version. This is the version I like best for release."[4] "Heavy Connection" is said to be "psychic stuff" with the lyrics vague and secret but speaking of a love connection "when you came into my dreams/like from a whisper to a scream." The last song on the album is "Cold Wind in August". Dr. John describes it as a "cross current from forties to seventies music. It's like where Ray Charles left off. It's a real tear-jerker that gets back to the basics of music."[5] "Flamingos Fly" was covered by Sammy Hagar, a year before A Period of Transition was released, on his first solo album Nine on a Ten Scale.[6]

Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
adriandenning.co.uk 7.5/10 stars[7]
Allmusic 3/5 stars[8]
Robert Christgau B[9]
Crawdaddy A−[10]
Scott Floman B−[11]
Rolling Stone (not rated)[12]

Greil Marcus, reviewing the album in Rolling Stone upon its release, offered a mostly negative appraisal: "Morrison made better music in '64 and '65 with Them, the first (and last?) great Irish rock & roll band;...There is a lot of neo-R&B huffing and puffing on A Period of Transition (from what to what?), but Morrison's performances rarely find a focus, almost never hit a groove...The key to the album's sluggishness is the dullness of the horn charts."[12]

The Allmusic reviewer, Stephen Thomas Erlewine says the album is "warm, welcoming, infused with spirituality and humor. Still like any period of transition, this is somewhat tentative and uneven, with its best moments, being at best, minor masterpieces."[8] Adrian Denning called it "a good little album" with "some earthy Van soul music on display".[7]

Peter Knobler, reviewing the album in Crawdaddy, wrote: "People had started talking about Van Morrison in the past tense. In the three years since his last album release, Veedon Fleece, his presence had grown to become some vaguely attainable level of excellence it seemed no one, not even Morrison himself, could ever truly achieve....A Period of Transition is Van Morrison's comeback album and with it he steps from influential absentia directly back to the top."[10]

Robert Christgau said in his review: "in general this is an unexciting record—but not definitively. It's full of the surprising touches...that signify talent putting out."[9]

Biographer Steve Turner calls the album, "lethargic and uninspired" but says that perhaps it was the album Morrison needed to make after being largely absent from the music business for almost three years. (His only public performance during this time period was a highly acclaimed appearance on The Last Waltz with The Band in 1976.)[13] Scott Floman was unimpressed calling it "the first truly skippable album of Van’s career thus far."[11]

Aftermath[edit]

Expectations were high and Morrison has admitted to working at his best when not under the pressure of high expectations from the industry and fans. In June 1977, he explained his feelings about this:

I think I needed to break a lot of that expectancy down. I know from experience that I go to see some artists expecting a particular thing. If they don't come up with that then I'm disappointed, but if I have no expectations they usually do something I haven't heard before and I'm turned on. The moment you expect something, you never get it.[14]

The album charted moderately well but most critics were disappointed, after waiting three years for a new album from Morrison. He had hired Harvey Goldsmith as manager and began a much more public media profile after the album's release. He recorded a Midnight Special session for NBC that was broadcast in April 1977, appearing with Carlos Santana, George Benson and Etta James. Morrison also began giving interviews again, commencing with his first interview since 1973 to Cameron Crowe from Rolling Stone.[15] In the interview when asked by Crowe: "Is the album a document of the actual period? Is the transition over?" Morrison replies: "All of that. It's been going on for about three years ...it's like, there's been lots of highs and there's been depressions... there's been starts and stops...it's just a period, you know."[16]

Album cover[edit]

Morrison has said that the title of the album referred to its front cover. Photographer Ken Mcgowan captured Morrison in various reflective, introspective moods until he realises with a half smile in the last shot that all such moods are transitory.[17]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Van Morrison unless noted.

Side one[edit]

  1. "You Gotta Make It Through the World" – 5:10
  2. "It Fills You Up" – 4:34
  3. "The Eternal Kansas City" – 5:26

Side two[edit]

  1. "Joyous Sound" – 2:48
  2. "Flamingos Fly" – 4:41
  3. "Heavy Connection" – 5:23
  4. "Cold Wind in August" – 5:48

Personnel[edit]

Musicians
Production
  • Producers: Van Morrison, Dr. John
  • Engineer: Gary Ladinsky
  • Assistant Engineers: Mike Beiriger, Richard Kaplan, Bart Johnson, Mick Glossop
  • Art Direction/Design: Mike Doud-AGI Hollywood
  • Photography: Ken McGowan
  • Management: Harvey Goldsmith
  • Cover Concept: Van Morrison

Charts[edit]

Album[edit]

Billboard (North America)

Year Chart Position
1977 Pop Albums 43

UK Album Chart (United Kingdom)

Year Chart Position
1977 UK Album Chart 23

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Rogan. No Surrender, p.309
  2. ^ Heylin. Can You Feel the Silence?, p.317
  3. ^ "concerts". van.vanomatic.de. Archived from the original on 14 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-08. 
  4. ^ a b c d Hinton. Celtic Crossroads. p. 198. 
  5. ^ Hinton. Celtic Crossroads, p.199
  6. ^ Hinton. Celtic Crossroads, p.385
  7. ^ a b Denning, Adrian. "adriandenning.co.uk album reviews". adriandenning.com. Archived from the original on 11 January 2010. Retrieved 2010-01-10. 
  8. ^ a b Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Allmusic review". allmusic.com. Retrieved 2009-03-29. 
  9. ^ a b Christgau, Robert. "Robert Christgau review". robertchristgau.com. Retrieved 2010-01-10. 
  10. ^ a b "Morrison, Van - Peter Knobler: Contemporary Literary Criticism". Enotes.com. Retrieved 2011-08-17. 
  11. ^ a b "Van Morrison Album Reviews". sfloman.com. Retrieved 2010-09-18. 
  12. ^ a b Marcus, Greil (1977-05-19). "Rolling Stone review". rollingstone.com. Retrieved 2008-12-23. 
  13. ^ Marcus, Greil (1976-12-30). "The Bands Last Waltz". Rolling Stone Magazine online. Retrieved 2008-08-27. 
  14. ^ Turner. Too Late to Stop Now, p.137
  15. ^ Hinton. Celtic Crossroads, p.199-201
  16. ^ Crowe, Cameron (1977-05-19). "Van Morrison finds Himself on the Road". cameroncrowe.com. Retrieved 2010-01-10. 
  17. ^ Hinton. Celtic Crossroads, p.197

References[edit]