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A cocktail of whisky and tequila; The Chieftains blend Mexican and Irish rhythms into a potent new album

03.16.10
Chieftains
New York Post

By Mary Huhn

Paddy Moloney, founder and frontman of the Chieftains, may be 71, but he knows a good mash-up when he hears one. That would be a blend of traditional Irish and Mexican music, as heard on the Chieftains and Ry Cooder’s new album, “San Patricios,” which tells a little known tale about the Mexican-American War of 1846-48.

Moloney, founder and frontman of the instrumental Irish folk band, found it when he was researching and writing music for Ken Burns’ 1990 documentary “The Civil War.”

As the story goes, John Riley, an Irish immigrant to the U.S., was recruited to fight against the Mexicans.

But Riley didn’t want to shoot fellow Catholics, so he formed a battalion of about 200 men — the San Patricios — to fight with the Mexicans.

After several fierce battles, the San Patricios were captured by the US army, who viewed them as traitors and punished them, executing some.

Moloney, who plays the Uilleann pipes (Irish bagpipes) and the tin whistle, was drawn to the tale.

“San Patricios,” recorded mostly by Mexican and Irish artists, was released earlier this month. The band will perform the songs, as well as its traditional St. Pat’s fare, at the Chieftains’ annual St. Patrick’s Day gig at Town Hall.

Guitarist, producer, composer and singer Cooder performed with the Chieftains on their “Santiago” and “The Long Black Veil” albums, and is co-producer here. “I’m so delighted Ry Cooder came aboard,” Moloney says. “He came after me with a big stick to get on it.”

The album features dozens of guest artists including Mexican folk singer Lila Downs, 93-year-old Mexican artist Chavela Vargas, Linda Rondstadt, Los Tigres del Norte and actor Liam Neeson, who narrates “March to Battle Across the Rio Grande.” Neeson is Moloney’s old friend, who was very “moved by the story.”

The roots music from both countries blended easily in the studio.

“You listen to the music and wonder if it’s Irish or Mexican,” says Moloney.

The multiple Grammy-winning Chieftains were formed 48 years ago and have made 44 albums, expanding beyond their traditional Celtic tunes to country and rock ’n’ roll.

“I never enjoyed a project as much as this one,” says Moloney.