Due to be released on 15th October 2021, Velvet Armour is the follow-on to the 2013 album, The Lion's Dream (see review) by Ton Scherpenzeel.
A highly respected musician, the legendary keyboardist known for many years as the founder of the band Kayak, and latterly working with Camel, has recently become a prized acquisition to the 'Friendly Folk' Record label headed up by Kathy Keller.
As an avid composer and multi-faceted artist, Ton has successfully written, arranged and produced the Velvet Armour album, the fifth in his personal canon, whilst also demonstrating his finesse with instruments and vocals.
An album of mythical and magical storytelling, it is eighteen tracks of medieval, baroque and prog fusion. Although favouring instruments of the 16th century, Ton is very open to including modern instruments if he feels they sympathetically lend themselves to this commemoration of a bygone era. Fiddle, flute, harpsichord, lute and baroque guitar feature throughout. Ton reached out to several other artists to augment this composition. People such as Annet Visser (flutes & recorders), Rens van der Zalm(fiddle), Maria-Paula Majoor (lead violin), Daniel Torrico Menacho (violin), Karsten Marijn Kleijer (alto), Arno v.d. Vuurst (cello) and Irene Linders (backing vocals).
Ton does not consider himself an accomplished singer, however he does feel that the use of his vocals is a purer reflection of the music of this period, and, in my opinion, marries so well with the sounds he has created.
Having listened extensively to the album, I have picked out a few tracks which I felt warranted further elaboration and the thoughts and feelings they elicited.
The first is the opening track, simply entitled, The Rose And Crown.
The sun has set behind murky mists, swirling over the land.
Assorted travellers are making their way to 'The Rose and Crown', drawing cloaks tightly to their necks to ward against the coming night.
Ton sets the scene with his soft vocal, narrative in style. He brings forth the travelling minstrels and revellers, all telling their stories, many of which have travelled from inn to inn, growing ever more bold and incredible with each recital.
Jesters entertain the guests, the musicians playing louder now, and there is much merriment.
Dancing, drinking, feasting and telling stories that get further embellished as the evening progresses, fact meeting fiction, with the latter holding sway! This smoky, hot and sweaty tavern rings now with the celebrations that strong ale and bonhomie always engender.
The world will look so different in the pale light of the new dawn, as these 'moonshadow dancers' and 'rainbow chasers' all gradually stumble away from hence they came, or onwards into new adventures, embracing the moments as the sun rises, signalling the possibilities of a brand new day.
Next, we have the track entitled River To The Sea.
Fluttering harpsichord(?) evokes thoughts of sparkling fresh water, flowing ever stronger as they accompany endless travellers on its growing and inevitable rush towards the ocean.
The lyrics seem to call out 'I am mighty, yet I feel small'; 'I am powerful, yet without purpose'.
As the river, I can be whatever you want me to be, travelling silent companion, source of refreshment, force of nature, a natural wonder, ever changing, ever flowing'.
The track continues with an inevitability to a conclusion, the music intensifying, all instruments gathering force, signifying the moment all tributaries unite as one and finally, meeting the sea.
Finally, I have chosen the title track, Velvet Armour.
What a joyous yet bitter-sweet track, taking us back, I believe, to The Rose And Crown.
Very much led by fiddle and drum, with an angelic choral vocal, Ton's unique voice features as the storyteller once more.
A tale of hidden feelings and pain, all contained behind a mask of fake joy, as the storyteller wants to make others happy, whilst disguising his own sadness, surely the original 'Tears of a Clown' tale.
A very strong baroque feel that comes to an end with the combined choral vocals that were heard earlier in the song.
All in all I really enjoyed both listening to, and reviewing Velvet Armour.
Ton clearly demonstrates his passion for the Middle Ages, combining the Renaissance and Baroque eras that have continued to be such a major element of musical history throughout Europe.
I would certainly recommend this album to anyone with a passion for Folk Baroque, and to others whose appreciation of progressive music encompasses all elements that this genre has to offer.
The inclusion of what we would consider more modern instruments has been done very sympathetically, and Ton walks a path that he is obviously so endeared to, and this can be clearly heard throughout.
Whilst this style of music is not normally on my radar, I must admit that repeated listening during the composition of the review has endeared it to me, and its haunting style will draw you into Ton's magical world of long, long ago.
**** Sue Smith
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