Released on 15th October, Velvet Armour is the follow-up to Ton Scherpenzeel’s 2013 album The Lion’s Dream. A highly respected musician, the legendary keyboardist is known for being the founder of Dutch band Kayak and for his work with Camel, and 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 written, arranged and produced Velvet Armour, the fifth in his personal canon, whilst also demonstrating his finesse with both 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 (fiddle, flute, harpsichord, lute and baroque guitar featuring throughout), Ton is open to including modern instruments if he feels they sympathetically lend themselves to this commemoration of a bygone era.
Ton reached out to several other artists to augment his compositions, whose particular contributions can be found in the credits at the end of this review. He does not consider himself an accomplished singer, however he feels that the use of his vocals is a purer reflection of the music of the period, and, in my opinion, marries well with the sounds he has created.
Having listened extensively to the album, I have picked out a few tracks which I feel warrant further elaboration on the thoughts and feelings they elicit. The first is the opening track, The Rose and Crown. The sun has set, murky mists swirl 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 having travelled from inn to inn, growing ever more bold with each recital. Jesters entertain the guests, the musicians playing louder now, and there is much merriment, with dancing, drinking, feasting and stories that are embellished further as the evening progresses, fact meeting fiction – with the latter holding sway! The 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, back from whence they came, or onward into new adventures, embracing the moments as the sun rises, signalling the possibilities of a brand new day.
The fluttering harpsichord of River to the Sea evokes thoughts of sparkling fresh water, flowing ever stronger as it accompanies the travellers in a 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 to an inevitable conclusion, the music intensifying, all instruments gathering force, signifying the moment all tributaries unite and finally meet the sea.
The title track is joyous yet bitter-sweet, 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. It’s a tale of hidden feelings and pain, all contained behind a mask of fake joy, as the storyteller tries to make others happy whilst disguising his own sadness, surely the original ‘Tears of a Clown’ tale. A strong baroque feel comes to an end with the combined choral vocals that are heard earlier in the song.
All in all, I really enjoyed Velvet Armour. Ton clearly demonstrates his passion for the period, combining the Renaissance and Baroque eras that were 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 the elements that this genre has to offer.
The inclusion of more modern instruments has been done sympathetically, and Ton walks a path that he is obviously emotionally close to, as can be clearly heard throughout. Whilst this style of music is not normally on my radar, I must admit that repeated listening has endeared it to me, and its haunting style will draw you into Ton’s magical world of long, long ago.
01. The Rose and Crown (4:40)
02. River to the Sea (2:57)
03. Noughts and Crosses (2:26)
04. Pillars of Light (4:11)
05. Secret Garden (2:55)
06. La Joueuse de Luth (2:10)
07. Velvet Armour (2:53)
08. Lily’s Lament (2:33)
09. Mirrors of Versailles (4:24)
10. My Heart Never Changed (3:23)
11. Tears of Glass (2:20)
12. Rings Around the Moon (5:25)
13. Egg Dance (2:17)
14. Hands of Time (2:43)
15. Marigold (2:34)
16. Tempus Fugit (3:51)
17. Road to Forever (2:59)
18. River to the Sea (Instrumental) (2:56)
Total Time – 57:36
Ton Scherpenzeel – Music, Lyrics, Arrangement, Production, All Instruments, Vocals
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
Irene Linders – Backing Vocals
Record Label: Friendly Folk Records
Country of Origin: The Netherlands
Date of Release: 15th October 2021
Ton Scherpenzeel – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp