The Heart Is the Only Nation by Ruth Barrett/Cyntia Smith

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My Most-Played Women's Music Tape

May 1, 2001
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Lovely earth-centered spiritual songs and highly accomplished dulcimer playing.

Cons:A little slow-paced, but it still grows on you over time.

The Bottom Line: Great collection of heartfelt Goddess/earth-centered original ballads and traditional folk songs; gorgeous dulcimer playing for anyone, regardless of belief system.


When I first played this album (my copy is in cassette format), I found it a bit slow-paced for my tastes, unlike a lot of the high-powered Celtic and other folk music that was fashionable in the mid-1990's. I didn't think it likely to be one of my favorites. Most of the songs are original compositions by Barrett and Smith and a few of their collaborators, and have a sweet, mellow, voice-and-lap dulcimer-centered sound. But I stuck with it, somehow; and over time, it has grown on me solidly, and become one of my favorite and most-played women's spirituality recordings. All the songs are well-written and arranged, and feature some of the best Appalachian dulcimer playing I have ever heard. I'm beginning to worry about how to replace it when it finally wears out altogether; I haven't seen it yet at Tower or Barnes & Noble.

As with most of their earlier recordings, Ruth Barrett and Cyntia Smith have a closely symbiotic and complementary musical style, along with their shared musical tastes and spiritual base (both are Wiccan priestesses and practitioners). Barrett has the stronger voice (though it occasionally goes flat on the pitch), and Smith is the more skilled instrumentalist (she and her husband are both dulcimer makers), and so it is most often Barrett you hear on solo lyric verses and Smith leading on the instrumental pieces.

The highly Celtic/folk-influenced songs on this recording include lyrical Goddess hymns (including "Apples of Avalon", "The May Queen is Waiting" and the Triple Goddess invocation, "Blessing Song"), traditional folk songs (such as "Dancing at Whitsun" and a rewritten English version of the Irish-language midsummer song, "Summer, Summer"), and several excellent dulcimer instrumental pieces, the flamenco-like "Zambra" being the best of these. Barrett continues her habit of setting original lyrics to ancient Scottish and Irish melodies, with "Apples of Avalon" following the tune of "She Moved Through the Fair", and the title track setting ambiguous lyrics about the Burning Times to the tune of "Parcel of Rogues". Both artists are committed to creating original music especially for the contemporary Goddess community, but they have never abandoned their folk roots, and actively seek out traditional songs and tunes, especially rarely-heard gems reflecting women's points of view. Now, if only they and their recordings were better-known and more visible in the mainstream music world, and they would give concerts in the Seattle area more often!


Recommend this product? Yes


Great Music to Play While: Reading or Studying

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