Harmonica – Mick Kinsella

A review of harmonica vituroso Mick Kinsella's first CD.

There are three main approaches to producing an album. Firstly, a person representing a large record label calls to your flat and offers you a $20m six-album contract, after a talent scout spotted you busking in the rain outside Arnotts. Secondly, you cross paths with a small independent record company (e.g. Claddagh or Malgamu) and decide to embark on a mutually beneficial journey through the wonderful world of recorded music. These initial scenarios, however, primarily involve other people influencing the direction of a musician’s creative output. On Harmonica, considerations outside the realm of musical integrity have largely been ignored.

Why exactly Mick Kinsella chose to undertake the third and most independent path to making an album would entangle this article in what is known as the ‘intentional fallacy’, a big fancy term for a mistaken equation, i.e. the intention of the producer of a piece of art (be it a painting, or a poem, or a musical work) with the evaluation of that piece.

This third approach to album production offers several advantages to the artist, in particular, ultimate freedom of expression, and the fact that pressure on promotion is restricted to an individual’s aspirations rather than linked to market forces and potential earnings. Furthermore, by producing the album himself, Kinsella has taken his time and gathered a collection of diverse tunes, from original compositions to traditional classics, all played by a considerable complement of leading musicians.

The biggest criticism that can be levelled at Harmonica can also be considered its greatest compliment. The wide diversity of tunes, geographically spanning from the Balkans to Donegal, from France to the Carribean, with a tinged version of Rory McCleod’s ‘Take me Home’, will make it very hard for people to categorise. This is not a classical album, nor is it a jazz album, nor again is it a traditional Irish album. It is an harmonica album, but it would be a shame if its listenership was confined to the ranks of harmonica lovers. This diversity, however, while it might sound the death knell for this album in the offices of a record-label executive, is also indicative of the virtuosity with which Mick Kinsella applies himself to his craft.

Kinsella manages to tackle the varied genres on the album with a musical understanding and proficiency that is positively sickening. With the seamless accompaniment of Martin Dunlea, and the enthusiastic support of such luminous Kinsellites as Donal Siggins, Peter Brown, Damian Gallagher, Dermot Byrne et al, the finished product represents a musical journey that was undertaken not to fill some marketable musical niche but as a necessary personal expression of a true talent: Mick’s magical musical diary.

I may be wrong in trying to divine Mick Kinsella’s (that’s ‘divine’ the verb, not ‘divine’ the adjective) artistic intention without consulting him, maybe his underlying aim is to produce a primarily market-oriented product, but if this is the case then Harmonica does not make it obvious. This album does indeed speak for itself, and, quite literately at that, have a listen to what it has to say!


First published in JMI: The Journal of Music in Ireland, Vol. 1 No. 2 (Jan–Feb 2001), p. 25

Published on 1 January 2001

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