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Guitar: Van Morrison, Marlo Hendersen
Keyboards: Mac Rebennack
Bass: Reggie McBride
Drums & Other Percussion: Ollie E Brown
Tenor & Alto Sax: Jerry Jumonville
Baritone Sax: Joel Peskin
Trumpet: Mark Underwood
BACKING VOCALS: Robbie Montgomery, Roger Kenerly-Saint, Gregory Wright, Carlena Williams, Paulette Parker, Candy Nash, Toni McVey, Gary Garrett, Joe Powell
"A Period Of Transition" was released in 1977, and reached no.23 in the UK album charts in May of that year. I do believe (yet at the moment can't clarify) that it was a bigger hit in the USA - maybe that's because the whole album has a decidedly American feel to it.
This album of Van's is kind of a stepping stone from the stuff he was doing through the 1970s, into his "spiritual" period that began in around 1979-ish. Though I haven't conveyed this in my following descriptions of the tracks, it feels to me that this album has a sort of a "going somewhere" feel to it......as if it's saying goodbye to one phase of life, thus being refreshed, unburdened, and ready to step into the next phase.
Here's a brief synopsis on the tracks, a la GentleGenius.....
1) YOU GOTTA MAKE IT THROUGH THE WORLD
This track starts off with a soft drumbeat, electric piano and bluesy guitar. The intro is fairly long, then Van's voice comes in with a wail, before launching into the song. This is a rather dirty, funk/jazz type song containing a couple of well-played, rather sleazy sax runs. There for me is something in this song that is reminiscent of Bob Dylan's "You've Gotta Serve Somebody" from his "Long Train Coming" album. Van's song though isn't about serving anybody....the words are advice about not letting anyone else put you down, get to you, or try to make you live life in their way - it's a stand for individuality, and us all getting through our lives in our own way, as best as we can...and to stand strong whilst being true to ourselves. Not a bad song overall, and there is something quite positive in the mood of the tune, and the whole arrangement. Van's voice changes throughout the song from soft'n'bluesy, through to quite harsh and rock-singer-ish, then back again...over and over.
2) IT FILLS YOU UP
Another dirty, bluesy track that has slight gospel undertones. The electric piano combined with the brass backing and an occasional solo run on a sax, creates a mood of something that's akin to smoky jazz clubs, things behind the "green door" - e.g. the shadier side of life. The words tell a different story though, in that it's an observation on how life can be overwhelming at times, and we have to walk around with eyes in the back of our heads.....yet the song doesn't dwell on the darker side of that. Van recommends that to cope with all which we find in life that is both enjoyable and not so enjoyable, is to.... "turn on the music and groove!"
3) THE ETERNAL KANSAS CITY
This song starts with a very quiet tapping on what sounds like a very quiet drum, then a chorus of voices repeatedly chant..... "Excuse me, do you know the way to Kansas City?", sung in very definite black gospel style. The song then launches into a nice, fairly uptempo and very jazz-influenced offering, which combines two things; first, a mood which is almost holy in its sense of ecstacy and expectation of good things to come, and second, a nice dose of the "Van wistfulness". I'm not too sure what this song is about, but it doesn't really matter as it's just a very nice, somewhat laid-back piece of music which makes you feel like a cat must when he's stretched out at full length in the sunshine, snoozing on a hot summer's day.
4) JOYOUS SOUND
This song opens with a piece on guitar, then launches with Van's voice into a moderately uptempo, happy-sounding love song. There is a very slight jazzy influence in there, and the song rolls along nicely. This is all about new-found love and celebrating the excitement of how it feels - that "walking on air" feeling - and there's also a very nice little sax break in the middle of the song. I can't say that this song is particularly deep or moving, but then I doubt if it's meant to be. Just an all-round good, light-hearted love song.
5) FLAMINGOS FLY
This track begins with drums, piano and something (not sure what) being plucked, together with a deep sax sound. The tune is moderately uptempo, with a very slight jazz feel. The sax sound is very prominent throughout. Van in this song wants to take his lover out to where "flamingos fly", and there are some lovely romantic phrases...breezes blowing, I wanna take that moonlight drive....wanna take you where flamingos fly, way over yonder in the clear blue sky. On one of Van's later albums (which I hope one day I get around to reviewing on DooYoo), he does a completely re-vamped version of this song. I can't say that I prefer one version over the other, as they are done in totally different styles. My favourite expression in this song is... "I'm looking at you looking at me..." - I have a thing about accidental eye contact that hits mutual spots within one another.
6) HEAVY CONNECTION
This song begins with a chorus of different types of sax, playing in harmony with one another, and almost immediately creates a slight sense of sadness in the tune. Van's voice joins in, and begins to tell a story about somebody coming into his dreams....and it being a "rare, heavy connection", which I feel is a superb way of describing those once in a lifetime encounters we get when we totally click with another person, even if they are a ship that passes in the night. He then goes on to reminisce about how he and this person met, going over letters they swapped together, phone calls they had. There is a lovely, almost sensual, lazy sax break in the middle....still with a slight touch of wistfulness though, that pervades the whole song. Van has an incredible skill of mixing happiness with sadness, and making them feel like one and the same thing. The song winds down gradually with voices in the background, screaming sax, and Van's voice singing..... "I can't stop this rainbow in my soul", and repeating "baby, baby, baby" over and over again, right down to a close.
7) COLD WIND IN AUGUST
This song begins with a soft guitar, soft piano and laid-back sax, supporting Van's voice. This is quite a slow and somewhat depressing song....yearning for somebody who he has known, and is reminiscing about the time when he first saw her (in her garden surrounded by California pines).... then describing how he just had to keep going back to see her, as he had to have her, over and over again.... come rain or shine. The whole song glides along on the piano and sax backing, complimented by gospel-ish sounding voices... plus, in the middle, there is a very good, but rather sad-sounding sax solo. The song winds down with Van "pushing through September, September in the rain" and the tune becomes more despondent, right through to a final, quiet note on a sax. This isn't my favourite track on the album, as I find it a little too depressing...of course it is up to Van's usual standard, but for me there are two depressing places that a song can hit - one is comfortable and the other is uncomfortable. This one hits my uncomfortable depressive spot - but that isn't a criticism of the song in itself.
Though this is one of a tiny handful of Van's albums that I rarely play, it isn't close to the bottom of the list of what I feel are his worst offerings - I'd say it's about halfway up, but Van even when he's being not so good, is still being extremely good.
This is Van's shortest, and not one of his best known albums.... maybe brevity was the name of the game for where he was at that point in his life, but it's an album which I occasionally play when I feel as though life is on the move after a lull, because the spirit of it can help propel me forward in a positive way.
Thanks for reading....and just to give a little warning... in the ensuing days/weeks/months, or however long it takes, I shall (amongst other artists/performers), be reviewing a lot more of Van The Man's work on DooYoo.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 You Gotta Make It Through The World
2 It Fills You Up
3 Eternal Kansas City
4 Joyous Sound
5 Flamingoes Fly (Heavy Connection)
6 Cold Wind In August