Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
Artist: VAN MORRISON
Album: A PERIOD OF TRANSITION
[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]
It’s been more than six years since I started KamerTunesBlog with a 10-part series on Van Morrison’s discography. Right from the start my primary goal was to revisit the complete works of the lesser-played artists in my collection, and the pride of Belfast, Ireland was an ideal artist to jump into the blogosphere with. At the time I was just as focused on generating content as I was on the music, so my appraisals of each album were much more concise than they would soon become. While I sometimes miss that brevity, I prefer to dive in a little deeper with each artist & album even though it’s resulted in fewer posts. Quality over quantity, I hope. In Part 4 of my Van Morrison series I discussed a record that made a surprising impact on me: A Period Of Transition. It was his first release in more than three years, the longest such break of his career up to that point, and was a commercial & critical disappointment. As I discussed in that post, the text of which is highlighted below, I had low expectations going in and they were greatly exceeded. With typically strong musical accompaniment, especially courtesy of co-producer Mac Rebennack (aka Dr. John), Morrison delivered a strong set of horn-infused blues-based songs. Of the tracks I previously wrote about, the uplifting “Flamingos Fly” remains my favorite. Other highlights include: “It Fills You Up,” a slightly gritty & funky midtempo tune with a slinky groove and a killer hook as he sings, “It fill you up, it fill you up, it fill you up now”; “Joyous Sound,” an appropriately-titled short bouncy burst of happiness (“…whenever we meet, whenever we meet”); the melancholy blues/jazz of “Heavy Connection”; and album closer “Cold Wind In August,” a slow ballad that straddles the line of blues & gospel. At nearly 6 minutes it’s also the longest song. A Period Of Transition may not be among his most essential albums but it’s a tight collection of excellent tunes that’s been undervalued for a long time. Hopefully one day it will get the reappraisal it deserves. Until then, I’ll do my part to spread the word about this overlooked gem. Here’s what I wrote about it back in 2011.
I was pleasantly surprised by A Period Of Transition. A short album, clocking in at around 34 minutes, I had always assumed this was a collection of outtakes or throwaway tracks. Oh how wrong I was. Produced by the great Mac Rebennack (aka Dr. John), and featuring his piano throughout, this might be my favorite re-discovery so far. It’s without a doubt Van’s most joyous-sounding album, featuring a great combination of gospel, jazz, New Orleans funk, and outstanding songwriting.
The opening track, “You Gotta Make It Through The World,” has a slow funky groove that’s reminiscent of Bill Withers. “Eternal Kansas City” is Van’s tribute to some of the jazz greats who inspired him, like Count Basie, Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday. The lyrics are simple, but the music has a great groove (after the initial section featuring a choir of female voices). “Flamingos Fly” is the happiest song on the album, and would get me out of a bad mood any day. Lyle Lovett would mine the same musical territory 15 years later, a connection I hadn’t noticed before.
I never gave much thought to the album cover before: numerous photos of Van in different poses, taken at the same session. Upon looking more closely, the first 14 photos show him as I’ve seen him before: moody, serious, a little surly, and with an occasional “what are you looking at?” stare. However, in the 15th & final photo he’s actually smiling. I’m not sure if this was intentional, but I imagine the photographer, Ken McGowan, finally decided to play the album in his studio when this photo was snapped, as Van’s joy is clearly captured here.