Arlene Faith – Spirit of the Celtic Violin

Arlene Faith
Arlene Faith
Sometimes you might be aware of an artist and know that they’re good but you never quite get round to listening to them properly– then one day you do get the chance and you realise what fantastic music you’ve been missing all those years.

That’s the way it was for me with American violinist Arlene Faith – one of the top classical/country/ folk crossover artists of the last 30 years.

I’ve only just discovered her trilogy of albums of Celtic violin music and now I wished I’d come across them earlier.

Arlene was known as Gidget Baird back in the 1970s when she played country and bluegrass in Nashville, Denver and other cities in America.

Arlene wrote songs for Charlie Pride

She worked for many years as a session musician and songwriter for a publishing company owned by Charlie Pride.

During that time she wrote several songs that were recorded by Charlie himself and other leading performers including Janie Fricke, George Jones and Roy Rogers. She changed her name to Arlene Faith when she set up her own publishing company called Wooden Stone Music.

Arlene is a classically trained violinist and has played with various orchestras and has been with the Trevecca Symphony Orchestra for 10 seasons.

Three Celtic violin albums over 10 years

Her trilogy of Celtic Violin albums was recorded over a 10-year period and consists of Spirit of the Celtic Violin, River of Dreams and Luna Wings.

These are three beautifully relaxing albums. Arlene is clearly a consummate musician but for me, the stand out point of her music is the strength of the melodies. They’re just wonderful – very accessible, instantly appealing and they linger in the memory long afterwards.

The track East of the River Shannon from the first album, Spirit of the Celtic Violin, was used as the title theme music for the PBS film series The Appalachians, about the people and the music of the Appalachias.

Authentic sound of traditional music from Ireland

Nearly all the tracks were written by Arlene but they have authentic sound of Celtic music from Ireland and Scotland. You could easily believe they were traditional and written a hundred years ago or more.

With some 30 tracks over the three albums, it’s hard to pick favourites but The Cry of the Celts struck a chord with me and Saint Brigid’s Tear was particularly effective with its choral intro and Arlene’s searing violin over a subtle guitar accompaniment.

Come the Morning is another beautiful and haunting melody. You can drift away to this but not for long because your foot would start tapping to irresistible dance tunes with names like Dances with Elves, Jack in the Pulpit and Pixie Dust.

A rare appearance as a singer

Luna Wings is the final track on the third album and features Arlene making a rare appearance on vocals.

As with all the tracks in this collection, the melody is wonderful and Arlene sings it so well, which begs the question why she doesn’t sing more…but then of course, the answer is that she’s too busy playing violin…even so I’d welcome a few more songs… but that’s my only quibble with this superb trilogy of albums. I shall be listening to them a lot.

Give them a try. If you do, I think you’ll agree that there are a lot of well known artists getting more attention than they deserve for music that is nowhere near as good as the tracks to be found on these three Celtic violin albums.

By Patrick Kehoe

Pat Kehoe is a writer for Irish Music Daily. His favourite Irish music bands are the Dubliners and Planxty.