Herman van Veen

Op Handen

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Op Handen is Dutch, although at first it sounds like something a mad doctor might bark at his assistant when a brain transplant has gone afoul. The 1978 LP is the work of Herman Van Veen, best described as a singer/songwriter, although the Dutch most likely have a better-sounding term for it. The album's very existence in a used record pile in North Carolina is enough to inspire a mini-lecture on the unpredictable thrills of scavenging used LP bins worldwide.

Initial excitement over the Dutch album was apparently inspired by the photo on the cover, in which Van Veen is seen playing the violin while sitting on a folding chair in a park. There is a valuable lesson to be learned concerning this cover photo: don't assume anything about the music based on the album's cover photo. Van Veen is a singer, not a violinist. He gets other people to play musical instruments -- lots of them -- including a saxophone quartet, as well as the prestigious Schonberg Ensemble, but he doesn't bother to parcel out individual credits. Gatefold space is hogged mostly by large shots of Van Veen and his three main co-writing and arranging assistants. Any disappointment over the lack of a major violin outing is washed away by the last track on the first side, a ditty entitled "Te Loom," which should be noted as a rare example of someone singing in Dutch over the backing of Jamaican steel drums. Van Veen and his collaborators have quite interesting taste when it comes to creating backing tracks, their whims seemingly sated by easy access to talented instrumentalists. Van Veen's voice vibrates with an overwhelming sense of normalcy, whatever the style or mood of a song. At times he doesn't even appear to be trying to sing properly, although he always is. There is simply no strain -- he is sitting in his own comfort zone of complexity.