KINNARIS QUINTET– This Too (own label KO002CD)

This TooThis Too is Kinnaris Quintet’s second album, and it feels like a bright, comforting smile in tough times. That’s not surprising, as the title comes from those timeless words of comfort – this too will pass. Kinnaris Quintet consists of five bright stars of Scottish music. Laura Wilkie, Aileen Reid, and Fiona MacAskill are on fiddles, Laura-Beth Salter on mandolin and Jenn Butterworth on guitar. Given that line-up, the musicianship is unsurprisingly superb, but other factors make this a truly delightful album.

Self-released, and produced by the band, it feels personal. Like many instrumental albums, This Too consists of a combination of single tunes and sets. Each track has its own title, even tracks consisting of a single tune. Some of these titles make sense, other don’t, but this is part of a quirkiness that helps to make This Too so likeable. What matters is that so much of it clearly has deep, personal meaning. Add to all this the band’s thoughtful and meaningful compositions, which make up the majority tunes here, and there really is a lot to like.

Guitar and mandolin open the first track, ‘Wonderful’, before the three fiddles take the lead. The first tune, ‘Big Brother Sunshine’, is Aileen’s tribute to her own big brother. ‘Diego’s’ is a tune by John Somerville and the set concludes with ‘Wonderwoman’, Jenn’s tribute to the women of the folk scene. ‘Wonderful’ sets some patterns for much of the album. The three fiddles are the most prominent sound, but the mandolin and guitar combine beautifully with them. I particularly enjoyed the rhythmic mandolin playing on this track.

I don’t know why the second track is called ‘Period Drama’, but it’s an interesting combination of styles. The first tune – ‘Baby Island of Ewe’, written by friend of the band Ian Carrhas a ragtime, old timey feel. Aileen’s composition ’48 FPS’ brings a recognisable Scottish sound, but old timey riffs continue to interplay with it, and have the last word.

‘Happy Days’ is the first one tune track. The tune, ‘Leaval’, was composed by Fiona, for her granny’s house on North Uist, a place of happy childhood memory. It’s a march like tune, opening with a combination of guitar and a plucked fiddle, before the whole band joins in.

‘Hayley and Chris’ was composed by Aileen for the wedding of two of her friends, and it would work perfectly as a wedding march. A gentle and beautiful tune.

‘Burdland’, the fifth track, starts in unmistakably Irish fashion. ‘Run’, composed by Joseph Armstrong, was inspired by a run in the Donegal Hills. Having paid tribute to her brother earlier, Aileen does the same for her sister with the second tune, ‘Sister Bliss’. ‘Burdland’ ends with a brief reference to ‘Birdland’, a 1977 track from Weather Report, written by Joe Zawinul.

‘Bonobo’s’, a track consisting of the tune, ‘For You, Bonobo’, is Aileen’s tribute to a species of primate. Bonobos are gentle creatures, capable of showing empathy and kindness. They’re closely related to – and provide a contrast with – the much more aggressive chimpanzee. As both are closely related to us, the bonobo might present a better version of ourselves. Aileen hopes so, but the fact that they’re survival is endangered by our deforestation doesn’t fill me with hope. This is a gentle and mischievous tune, perfectly fitting the character of its subjects.

‘Halifax’ refers to Nova Scotia, rather than Yorkshire. The single tune, Jenn’s ‘Overnight to Halifax’ refers to leaving the Celtic Colours Festival and traveling on to Halifax. Another delightful tune.

A burst of high tempo fiddle playing, starts the title track. The tune is called by the full quote (originating from medieval Persian poetry) ‘This Too Shall Pass’. Appropriately, it’s an upbeat and positive track.

Track 9 is – for no obvious reason – divided into two, 9i and 9ii. Together they provide some of the most complex and interesting music of the album. ‘Extro-Intro’ was composed by Laura for everyone who, like herself, is both introvert and extrovert. The tune is called ‘IntroExtrovert’ and reflects the theme of contradiction with discordant passages and a blend of styles, including old timey sequences.

Track 9ii consists of two tunes. ‘Radge Against the Machine’ was written by Laura-Beth for her dad, and ‘Kathleen MacDonald’s’ written by Fiona for a musician friend. It’s a varied track, drawing on influences including classical and jazz. At times, it feels darker and more mysterious than the rest of the album. This is a complex track, and difficult to describe, so you might just have to listen to it for yourselves. The track title is ‘Dishgo,’ which as far as I can see, is the name of a social media platform for foodies. There’s a reason for that title, but please don’t ask me what it is.

Delicate guitar playing opens the final track, ‘Back Road to Schots’, before the mandolin and then the fiddles join in, and a stirring Highland march develops. ‘MacGregor of Rora’ is the only traditional tune here, and sets up a suitably rousing finale.

This Too, is a joyful and optimistic album. Something in me tends to assume that cheerful music might be a bit lightweight, but that’s absolutely not true of this album. The message isn’t that everything is always lovely, but that even in the face of troubles, we can find a way through. The intelligence and warmth of the compositions, that really do evoke what inspired them, impressed me a lot. Given that the inspirations include friend’s weddings, endangered primates, contradictory personality types and more, that really is impressive!

Problems faced by Kinnaris Quintet in recent times have included finding ways to record when lockdown rules prevented them from getting together. This helps to explain the long gap between their 2017 debut, Free One, and this second album. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait as long for their next offering.

Graham Brown

Artist website: