Ad Vanderveen: Exceptional Americana from Norway to the USA
by Lee Zimmerman
May 11, 2015
Column: Americana Abroad
Retrospectives, anthologies and greatest hits collections are an ideal way for newcomers to get an initial snapshot of an artist that has suddenly attracted their attention. Most great discoveries offer a shortcut to a back catalog, an easy, cost-effective way to get to the heart of an artist’s essence before delving into the more extensive back pages.
Norwegian singer-songwriter Ad Vanderveen’s previous offerings are given a perfunctory examination courtesy of a new two-disc set entitled Presents of the Past/Requests Revisited. As the title implies, it looks back on some of his musical highlights while also previewing a new set of songs that point the way forward. Given the number of those who are likely as-yet unaware of Vanderveen’s 40-year career, this new collection seems an apt way to quickly catch up on a career that extends back to the 1970s.
Still, it’s a measure of Vanderveen’s consistency and creativity that even a double-disc set becomes far too skimpy to give due credence to his accomplishments. A native of Norway, Vanderveen is Americana in everything but his origins. An earlier album, Days of the Greats, documented his fascination with American mystique, its title track commemorating a time when JFK and Clint Eastwood held sway over the world’s imagination. Vanderveen’s reflective musings on this collection give his songs a weary charm that’s all but irresistible, and while he sometimes takes his cues from others – John Stewart, Townes Van Zandt, Gordon Lightfoot, and Neil Young all occasionally come to mind – his body of work could easily garner the envy of any acoustic bard armed with a guitar, a melodious voice, and a sizable stash of songs.
The bulk of Vanderveen’s catalog is built on his solo offerings, albums that are now recognized as classics by a small but fervent following of devotees. Each of them in turn helped define his modus operandi. Other essential acquisitions include collaborations with former Fairport Convention mainstay Iain Matthews, one-off efforts with Eliza Gilkyson and David Olney, as well as primary roles played in a pair of short-lived bands – Personnel and the O’Neils.
Presents of the Past/Requests Revisited does what the best archival collections manage to do: combine fan favorites with an entire album of new offerings.
“It started with the idea to re-record the requests I’ve been getting at live shows through the years, since many of those songs are not available on CD anymore,” Vanderveen writes on his website. “It almost felt like I was covering myself, but during the work on Requests Revisited, the new songs also kept coming. They seemed to have more of a vintage-roots character to them and asked for a slightly different approach.”
In that sense, the new material stays true to Vanderveen’s basic template: a rugged and stirring folk-based sound that supports his astute observations. Suffice to say, it is exceptional.