In the realm of modern folk rock, two men stand as pillars influencing the generations who follow. Bob Dylan took the influence of Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams and through the magical transformation of the Greenwich Village stages, made it speak to millions of young adults grasping for sense in senseless times. Neil Young rose to fame riding a wave of psychedelia with Buffalo Springfield operating out of L.A.’s famous Laurel Canyon. Yet, in his formative years on the Canadian Great Plains, Young drew a lot from Dylan’s early folk masterpieces. Once the great wave of the ’60s broke, Young would turn hard to folk in the ’70s writing some of his most enduring classics. Today, there is a great deal of that DNA in any given performer that takes up the acoustic guitar to bare their soul.
Amsterdam-based Ad Vanderveen may have been born thousands of miles from Ohio or Ontario, Minnesota or Manhattan but the man has the lineage of these folk troubadours in his blood. This must have something to do with his Canadian parents. On his latest record Release, Vanderveen powerfully and effectively channels the two greats, blending their sonic traits with his own worldly personality to create an album that hits all the right notes of nostalgia, reflection, love, and sense of home that a great folk record should.
The ambling picking of his acoustic guitar has a crisp sheen on the opener ‘Release’. His voice comes in with the same combination of frailty and earnestness that became Neil Young’s calling card. If you close your eyes and let your mind drift a little, you could easily mistake the track for an unearthed gem from Young’s Harvest days that had until now remained unreleased. Kersten de Ligny adds perfectly complementary harmonies and The Neil James Morrison Ensemble provides an understated string backing.
There’s a way that Young can say a word or a phrase and imbue it with such powerfully wistful nostalgia and Vanderveen has a similar talent. The way he sings “and this old guitar is all I have to bring along to sing you one last song” in the softly swaying ‘One Last Song’ or “Got an old guitar from the year I was born/Sounds like a dream and it’s pretty well worn” on ‘Ol’ ’56’ links the storytelling tradition of the guitar around the hearth to all the ups and downs of a life well-lived. The word “guitar” holds a lifetime of dusty memories.
‘Always the Next’ has the rambling sing-song of Dylan’s first two records. Lightly meandering through a fingerpicked 6/8 before the band joins in to give it a good Celtic bob. Vanderveen is far from doing the cheap wheezy inflection of a poor Dylan impression, he just throws in the odd upward strain or hushed delivery that makes Dylan’s vocals stand out from the rest of the folk pack. Vanderveen also avoids the snide cynicism that crept into most of Dylan’s lyrics, instead presenting the challenges you face with an escape route: “there’s got to be some consolation my friend/there’s always the next to hold on to”.
Although a song like ‘Wildfire’ may cop the mid-song wailing harmonica solo that Young made a trademark, Vanderveen’s voice comes more into its own here. The western-tinged steady rollin’ rhythm is complemented by slide guitar echoing off into the dark of a midnight prairie. ‘Fickle Mind’ also enjoys some tasteful slide guitar to brush along this slow, back porch on a sleepy Sunday tune. ‘Nothing but a Dream’ shows up as a late album gem with Vanderveen giving out reassuring pearls of wisdom over a track that shows the singer finding a signature sound for himself.
Obviously, if you are a fan of Dylan or Young, Ad Vanderveen’s Release will be right up your alley. However, the similarities in timbre and structure are not a rip-off. This is not an artist lifting tried and true melodies to profit off of their good songwriting, something that is done FAR too often in pop music today. This is an artist who studied under the best in his field and with that same energy, produced a welcoming, wistful, and wise entry in the tradition of great folk music.
****by Jon C. Ireson