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 overlooked 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." 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.
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." 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.
"You Gotta Make It Through the World" is according to Morrison, "a survival song". Dr. John felt that it had "a real spiritual sound". "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." 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." 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." "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." "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.
In a contemporary review for Rolling Stone, Greil Marcus dismissed the songs as "a lot of neo-R&B huffing and puffing" and said "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." Robert Christgau wrote in The Village Voice: "In general this is an unexciting record—but not definitively. It's full of the surprising touches...that signify talent putting out."
In a retrospective review for AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine was more positive and said 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." Biographer Steve Turner called 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.
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.
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. 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."
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.
All songs written by Van Morrison unless noted.
- "You Gotta Make It Through the World" – 5:10
- "It Fills You Up" – 4:34
- "The Eternal Kansas City" – 5:26
Van Morrison – acoustic and electric guitars, vocals, harmonica
Ollie E. Brown – drums, percussion
Marlo Henderson – guitar
Jerry Jumonville – tenor and alto saxophones
Reggie McBride – bass
Joel Peskin – baritone saxophone
Mac Rebennack (Dr. John) – piano, electric piano on all tracks, guitar on "It Fills You Up"
Mark Underwood – trumpet
Robbie Montgomery, Roger Kennerly-Saint, Gregory Wright, Carlena Williams, Paulette Parker, Candy Nash, Toni McVey, Gary Garrett and Joe Powell – backing vocals
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
- "Joyous Sound" – 2:48
- "Flamingos Fly" – 4:41
- "Heavy Connection" – 5:23
- "Cold Wind in August" – 5:48
Billboard (North America)
UK Album Chart (United Kingdom)