Music Review: Solas

Strings in the Mountains Music Festival Park
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
August 13, 2004

Music Review by Kathleen Cunningham Guler

Solas — the name of this critically acclaimed band means “light” in Gaelic. On their tour stop at Steamboat Springs, Colorado’s Strings in the Mountains Music Festival Park this summer, Solas not only infused light and energy into their performance, they brought the whistling, cheering audience to its feet many times.

Solas is best described as “traditional contemporary Irish-American.” Like many other “traditional” Celtic artists, this band introduces elements of contemporary compositions in order to appeal to a wider audience. But while Solas draws on songs written by Woodie Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Dan Fogelberg — and the influence can well be heard — the band successfully gives the modern tunes a solid Celtic interpretation that will please those who crave the traditional sound.

The Solas ensemble includes bandleader Seamus Egan on flute, nylon guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, banjo, and low whistle; Mick McAuley on accordions and low whistle; Deirdre Scanlon on vocals; Winifred Horan on fiddle; and Eamon McElholm on acoustic guitar, piano and keyboards. Members hail from both sides of the Atlantic and have solo careers as well. Egan is lauded as a co-writer of Sarah McLaughlin’s Grammy-winner “I’ll Remember You.” Horan is both an Irish stepdance and all-Ireland fiddle champion who has played with powerhouse co-champion fiddler, Eileen Ivers.

This enormously talented five-member Celtic band quickly warmed to an audience that in turn fully embraced the band members’ masterful musician-ship. Played on a wide variety of traditional instruments, sparkling jigs and high-energy reels intermingled with poignant aires that cried of heartache and loss. Scanlon’s haunting vocals, reminiscent of Clannad’s Maire Brennan, and McAuley’s lightning-fast fingers on the button accordion highlighted a mesmerizing, magical performance to be long remembered. And don’t forget that sharp Celtic wit!

Swept by the power of the band’s music, the audience pounded away, stomping feet and clapping hands during the last few tunes, even inspiring a few to come to the stage and dance. It was impossible to keep from becoming a part of the spirit and the energy and the light. There was certainly a feeling that by the end, the audience was left craving for more!

Solas' website is at:

Poetry Review: At the Edgelessness of Light

At The Edgelessness of Light
By James McGrath
Paperback $16.95; ISBN 0865344531, 115 pp.
Sunstone Press; March 2005
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Book Review by Kathleen Cunningham Guler

Poet, artist and teacher, James McGrath, defines the edgelessness of light as “that place where love and light are revealed: a vibrant, gentle, lonely place where the tides of feeling and understanding move in and out with constant illumination and exposure of what is important in the moment before fading, leaving the edgeless shadow of a poem.”

Indeed, McGrath’s latest collection of poems is tied together through the theme of light and the natural world in balance. The sixty-two works also spring from the essence of many cultures, including Celtic, Native-American, Filipino, Okinawan, and Greek. As different as these cultures may be, it should be noted that authors/artists/musicians often overlap elements from one culture to another in their work, linking the primal and spiritual similarities within them. This collection glides from one to the other with seamless ease.

McGrath’s writing is clear, tight, and accessible. The poet is also an artist, and this is evident in the strong visual images his words evoke. Each poem explores the facets of a very personal story. Many are autobiographical. Others are portraits of friends, family, students. Some are heartbreakingly poignant. It is as if he captures a handful of light, pinpoints it on his subject, then sets the light free again. What is left behind is an impression that will long remain in the mind. Absolutely luminous!

Poetry Review: Lest the Spell Break Like Crystal

Lest the Spell Break Like Crystal
By Robert Cooperman
Paperback, $5.00, 48 pp.Snark Publishing, 2004

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Reviewed by Kathleen Cunningham Guler

This lively collection of narrative poetry is based on Scottish and English popular ballads. Each of the twenty-four poems is a story on its own and told from a different character taken from the older tales. The collection spans time from the medieval period to the golden age of piracy to the early nineteenth century. The themes of greed, lust, and revenge tie the stories together.

Lest the Spell Break Like Crystal is a like a small, tight-knit community whose members whisper their deepest, darkest secrets to the reader. Cooperman’s characters are revealed through his uncanny sculpturing of their most intimate thoughts. One of them, a narrator who has sent the Scottish shipmaster Sir Patrick Spense to sea in a winter storm and to his death, also exposes a raw streak of jealousy at the admiration Sir Patrick had enjoyed. “No Scotsman should be more adored than his king, not even Patrick, whom I loved like a son,” the jealous narrator mourns. Another character, Lord Baker, who has returned from the crusades, is in the middle of his wedding when a Turkish princess whom he fell in love with during his travels arrives with a knife as a gift. He pays off the woman he was to wed and marries the princess instead. On their wedding night he begs her forgiveness for having left her—she is still holding the knife. And then there is Lady Diamond. After her father has hanged Henry the kitchen boy for being her lover, the Lady demands he give her Henry’s heart in a box. Later, at her wedding to a viscount, she still has Henry’s heart with her—literally.

Robert Cooperman’s surprising, unorthodox poetry weaves a fine spell indeed. As in Lest the Spell Break Like Crystal, his storytelling can be found in a number of his critically acclaimed chapbooks and full-length collections, including A Tale of the Grateful Dead and In the Colorado Gold Fever Mountains, which won the Colorado Book Award in 2000.

Non-Fiction Review:Presenting Wales From A to Y

Presenting Wales From A To Y:
The People, The Places, The Traditions

By Peter N. Williams, Ph.D
Trafford Publishing, Aug 2003, $23.95, 297 pp.ISBN: 1553954823
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Reviewed by Paula Bardell

Opening with the entry: A Oes Heddwch (Is there Peace), the “stirring three-time cry of the archdruid of Wales . . . at the National Eisteddfod”, and ending with Zito, Jayne, the person who set up the Zito Trust to campaign for “better support and treatment of the mentally ill”, Peter N. Williams’ alphabetical guide to the people, places and traditions of Wales is a rich source of fascinating information for students, teachers, historians and curious browsers.

The author himself was born and raised in the county of Flintshire, close to the English border, where the flat plains of Cheshire look towards the imposing mountains of North Wales. The area is steeped in history; indeed, old Flintshire was established in 1284, seven years after King Edward I ordered work to begin on Flint Castle — the site of many bloody battles between Celts and Romans, British and Saxons, Welsh and Normans. Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarians dismantled the edifice in 1646, but its ruins, which overlook the River Dee estuary, continue to attract a steady stream of sightseers each year.

Although Peter has lived in the United States since 1957, he has never forgotten his Welsh roots — he was the founder of the Welsh Society of Delaware — and takes obvious pleasure in exploring his cultural heritage. He is the author of at least half a dozen books about Wales, including The History of Wales in Verse and The Eighth Wonder of Wales: The Survival of its Ancient Celtic Language, and describes himself as being an active member of the “Welsh circuit.” Now a retired English teacher from the University of Delaware, he is a director of the National Welsh-American Foundation and was honoured in 1999 for his work on behalf of Wales and Welsh Americans by being made a member of Gorsedd at the National Eisteddfod of Wales.

On his website,, Peter reveals that he was “brought up to be English.” By this, he undoubtedly means that his family and teachers had little choice but to disregard Wales’ own unique customs, history, language (Cymraeg, the oldest spoken language in Britain) and identity in favour of an Anglocentric education. This was far from unusual in a nation dominated by the conquering English since 1282, and subsequently amalgamated with them following the 1536 Act of Union. Although modern Wales (as Peter points out) now has its own devolved political Assembly and “a whole new revolutionary spirit,” many centuries of immigration from England has left parts of Wales — especially Peter’s native northeast region — very heavily anglicized.

Nevertheless, there have been frequent revolts against the English from 1295 until 1500 — most notably the national uprising led by Owain Glyndwr. Then, following the Second World War, a nationalist movement emerged along with a revival of the language, which had earlier been suppressed or discouraged by the English. In 1966, Plaid Cymru (the Welsh National Party) returned its first member to Parliament and, during the mid 1980s, there was a bombing campaign against estate agents selling Welsh properties to English buyers. Finally, in 1997, a referendum endorsed devolution by a narrow margin of 50.3% and the Welsh Assembly started functioning in 2000.

Every year, thousands of people visit Wales to take pleasure in the wild beauty of its untamed scenery, experience a unique way of life and listen to the music of its internationally celebrated choirs. Any lingering impression of Wales as an industrial waste- land — black with collieries and tips — is very much out of date. Without a doubt, the contrast between the remains of its industrial past (now restored for tourists) and the splendour of its valleys are all part of the region’s great appeal.

Presenting Wales From A To Y will make a handy addition to many reference book collections, and will provide a fascinating background for curious visitors and armchair travellers alike. However, for those who would like to probe more deeply into the history of Wales and its feisty inhabitants, Peter’s The Long, Hard Struggle: A History of Wales and The Sacred Places of Wales: A Modern Pilgrimage, both published by Red Dragon Press in Newark, Delaware, are well worth seeking out.

Paula Bardell is a freelance writer who has contributed pieces to numerous publications on subjects ranging from literature and travel, to culture, history and humanitarian issues. She lives in North Wales, is a staff writer for Apsaras Review and the editor of two popular online guides. Her résumé is at:

Non-Fiction Review: Horses and the Mystical Path

Horses and the Mystical Path:
The Celtic Way of Expanding the Human Soul
By Adele von Rüst McCormick, Ph.D.,Marlena Deborah McCormick, Ph.D., and Thomas E. McCormick, M.D.
Hardcover $21.95; ISBN: 1577314506; 208 pp.
New World Library, Sep 2004
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Book Review by Ann Gilpin

Imagine a politically torn nation in which a rancher must rescue his beloved horses from the threat of approaching war. As he and his family prepare to flee in their trucks, he speaks heart-to-heart with his twenty-five year old stallion, begging the animal to follow the vehicles. The stallion goes to the herd, appears to communicate with its members, and they all seem to understand the dire situation. For three days they run, with little food or water, following the trucks. The trek is arduous, crossing high mountains to reach refuge in another country. They all arrive safely. With his task completed, the ageing stallion modestly accepts praise from the rancher, lies down and dies.

This story of communication between horse and human is true, and along with many others, forms the heart of the book, Horses and the Mystical Path. These stories come from the authors’ many years of developing and operating programs that combine psychotherapy with the healing power of horses to help emotionally disturbed people.

The unique relationship between horses and humans goes back many thousands of years. The authors came to understand this relationship as a divine-like connection and found explanations in a number of spiritual traditions. Most significantly, they discovered ancient Celtic tradition highly revered this connection. In the book, the authors outline the history of Celtic horsemanship, then explore mysticism at length, drawing from the era of the early Celtic church’s so-called “golden age of saints” (ca. 5th - 9th cent. C.E.). While they do touch on the much longer history of the Celts’ spiritual tradition, they curiously do not explore its pre-Christian animist beliefs that heavily influenced the early Celtic church and saints, or mention its divine horsewoman, Epona.

Without a doubt, though, the stories of the horses are the best part of this book. They demonstrate the profound depth horses can reach in their relationships with humans, both in the conscious, daily world and in the unconscious, mysterious world of the soul. Many of the stories will bring tears to the reader’s eyes. With inspiration and wisdom, Horses and the Mystical Path shows how these animals can teach the human to turn away from the cocoon-like self and find a greater perspective of the world all around.

Fiction Review: Nectar From a Stone

Nectar From a Stone
By Jane Guill
Paperback $15.00; ISBN 0743264797; 464 pp.Touchstone; March 2005
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Book Review by Kathleen Cunningham Guler

Jane Guill’s debut novel, Nectar From a Stone, tells the intertwining stories of a young widow seeking redemption and a noblemen’s quest for revenge. In 1351, the plague has devastated Europe, Wales is a country subjugated by English oppression, superstition runs rampant, and the medieval church blames women for just about anything it perceives as sinful.

Elise, a half-Welsh, half-English woman plagued by strange visions, is forced to stab her brutal husband in self-defense. Believing him dead, she flees with her servant, Annora, for Conwy, hoping to find work and peace. Gwydion, also half-Welsh, half-English, is a brooding nobleman on his way to Conwy as well, seeking vengeance against those who murdered his family and seized his estate. He and Elise cross paths on the road north and against better judgment, are inexorably drawn to each. As each reaches their destination, a dark and cruel shadow from Elise’s past begins to catch up, sweeping her and Gwydion into a terrifying confrontation with their enemies.

Nectar From a Stone is a fascinating window into medieval Welsh life. Impeccable research and lively characters bring both the place and time alive, illustrating the depth to which war, illness, the church and superstition played in everyday life. Elise and Gwydion are endearing, and Annora is a delight with her wry humor—a nice balance against the cruelty of Elise’s evil husband Maelgwn and Gwydion’s conspiratorial foes. Jane Guill’s intelligent, rich portrayal of medieval Wales is told with charm, wit, and masterful storytelling.

Highly recommended.

Fiction Review: Alison's Legacy

Alison's Legacy
By Toby Heathcotte
Ebook $5.99, ISBN 0932866027
Triskelion Publishing, March 2004
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Paperback $15.00, ISBN: 0964088223, 297 pp.
Mardel Books, Feb 2000

Book review by Kathleen Cunningham Guler

Alison’s Legacy, the first book in the Alma Chronicle Series, deftly explores the harrowing social and political climate a woman faced in eighteenth century England through the absorbing story of Alison McPhearson, a Scottish immigrant living in an English village near Salisbury. An innkeeper, Alison is left pregnant and abandoned by a brutal husband. In a time when women had absolutely no rights, she is faced each day with the danger that she could be shunted off to the desolate streets of London — a death sentence in itself — just for being with child and having no more husband, for showing sympathy to the Jacobites, or for her friendship with Judith, a woodswoman and seer. Alison challenges the unfairness of life with stoic courage. She hides her pregnancy and the birth of her son, Lainn; learns to read, write and cipher; and successfully runs the inn alone. Judith, her mentor, becomes foster mother to Lainn, who also shows signs of being a seer.

Alison learns that the church ignores the notion of reincarnation, but as she meets and finds love in an English officer, Thomas Whitfield, she comes to realize through vague memories and dreams that she, Thomas, Judith, Lainn and her brutal husband have all been together before and must rectify past mistakes.

In Alison’s Legacy, Toby Heathcotte creates immediate sympathy for Alison’s plight right from the first page. Alison’s courage to remain independent is believable because she does not defy the social system — she cannot, not without causing her own death and that of her son’s and her mentor’s. Instead she finds creative ways to work around it. The concept of reincarnation is well woven into the story as part of an older form of spirituality. Powerful scenes fill this intriguing book, illustrating the lack of rights and unfair consequences for women of the era, just for having plain bad luck.

Visit Toby Heathcotte's website: