CD Review: The Chieftains Featuring Ry Cooder

Milwaukee Sentinel

During the Mexican-American War of the mid-1800s, several Irish expatriates who had escaped the Irish Potato Famine joined the U.S. Army, only to find themselves enlisted in a conflict that reminded them far too much of the senseless violence they'd fled.

Several deserted to fight for Mexico, forming the Legion of Saint Patrick, or San Patricios, and that is the starting point for the latest Chieftains album. Of course, the Chieftains are very capable of covering the Irish side of things, but with the help of virtuoso guitarist and producer Ry Cooder, they connect to the Mexican side just as well.

The variety of guests is astonishing - name another album featuring Linda Ronstadt, ranchero singer Chavela Vargas and actor Liam Neeson - but the unity of supposedly disparate influences is the real surprise.
From the opening, complexly rhythmic "La Iguana" to the joyfully varied "Finale," this music doesn't so much tell a forgotten tale of history as celebrate the common culture and cause the Irish and Mexican soldiers must have felt.