The Perfect Cinco de Mayo Celebration

Cover of The Chieftans and Ry Cooder's new album, "San Patricio."
Concord Music Press
By Laura Felton

There's a little-known story of Irish heroism in Mexico's history, and Paddy Moloney, lead singer of The Chieftans, put it to music in what may be the perfect Cinco de Mayo celebration this year.

Moloney describes his album "San Patricio" as a "tone poem."

"It's telling an untold story in Mexican and Irish history," said Moloney, whose band The Chieftans are considered one of the world's most celebrated Irish music groups. Winner of six Grammys, the group has collaborated with some of the most celebrated names in rock and roll. This album, Moloney's 49th, also features collaboration.

"We were like one big happy family," said Moloney of all the people who worked on the album. One of thosewas Ry Cooder, also a six-time Grammy winner, who co-produced the album and had a huge impact on four tracks, including one he wrote and performed himself.

"Ry is a fantastic musician," said Moloney. "He participated in [past albums] "Santiago" and "The Long Black Veil," both of which won Grammys. He contributed one of the most moving songs on the whole album, 'The Sands of Mexico.'"

Moloney said he "came up with the idea for the album years ago. Originally, I wanted to make an album about the American Civil War, but then I stumbled upon the story of the San Patricio Battalion." The album took two yearsto make.

The San Patricio Battalion was a group of Irish immigrants who deserted the U.S. Army in 1846 to fight on the Mexican side against the invading Yankees in the Mexican-American War.

Although battalion menbers are deemed traitors in the U.S., they are still remembered today in Mexico as heroes who fought bravely against what Mexicans considered an unjust war of aggression. "San Patricio" brings their story to life.

The album was recorded in Mexico over the course of a month, which Moloney describes as "a great big party." He is extremely respectful of Mexican culture and points out many similarities between Irish and Mexican traditional sound. "The European influence on Mexican traditional sound is obvious," said Moloney. "You really go back in time with this record."

The album, a 19-track symphonic blend of both countries' musical styles features an array of instruments - Mexican guitars, button accordion, bajo sexto, trumpets, double bass, drums, Uilleann pipes, tin whistle, bodhrán, and flute. Fiddle and harp are heard throughout.

The album also boasts a bevy of guests, including Linda Ronstadt, Van Dyke Parks, Lila Downs, Los Tigres del Norte and acclaimed Irish actor Liam Neeson, who narrates the San Patricios' sacrifice in the military anthem "March to Battle," composed by Moloney, with lyrics by Irish novelist/songwriter Brendan Graham.

Moloney says he enjoys creating a fusion of music from around the world, and his obvious love for Mexico is apparently returned.

"They loved us over there," he said. "I've never met people so welcoming, so warm. There was never a shortage of red wine or tequila."

On a more serious note, Moloney adds, "I hope this album sheds light on the San Patricio Battalion and also highlights the amazing bond between two unlikely countries."

San Patricio was released on March 9, 2010, through Fantasy Records/Concord Music Group. For more information on the album, visit The Chieftans offical website.

By Laura Felton