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Album Review

In 1996, Mike Ireland's life turned into something out of a country weeper when his wife and the guitar player from his band ran off together, leaving Ireland without a band, a marriage, or a home. In 1998, Ireland and his new group, Holler, turned two years of heartache into one of the finest (and certainly most underappreciated) country albums of the decade, Learning How to Live. If Learning How to Live was a song cycle about the struggle to survive a broken heart, Ireland's second album, 2002's Try Again, brings together a dozen songs about the nuts and bolts of starting your life over again. The album's opening cut, "Welcome Back," follows a man who returns to his old hometown to find it only a shadow of its former glory, and it sets the stage well; breaking free from a painful past to venture into an uncertain future is the recurring theme here, and the title "Love's the Hardest Thing You'll Ever Do" sums things up quite well. But despite the recurring bouts of loneliness that mark these songs, there are also moments of hope and even joy — "Sweet Sweetheart" is a positively jaunty love song, while "I'd Like To" could become a standard first dance at second weddings. Whether happy, mournful, or reflective, Ireland's songs hit their emotional marks with honesty and subtle grace, and his clear, Missouri-accented tenor is the ideal match for his lyrics. Mike Ireland & Holler's blend of honky tonk concision and countrypolitan melodic styling speaks with clarity and heartfelt humanity on Try Again, and if Ireland doesn't have the sales figures of a major artist, listening to this album should convince anyone he has the talent.

Try Again, Holler
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