Mike Ireland

Try again is one of the most complicated phrases in English. It often pops up in banal situations, even in the infuriatingly false comforts of an electronic voice informing us that all circuits are busy or that we have not, in fact, won any jackpots. Those two little words might be all the c omfort a struggling, tearful child needs to get by, and it can be the mantra that returns an adult to sobriety. Poorly used, though, the words can form the most galling piece of advice imaginable. Mike Ireland understands trying again, and he knows as well as anyone that it’s a far cry from the first human impulse in the face of failure, or partial success, or near-success — or complete success. Try Again, Ireland’s long-awaited second album, captures the brave, lonely act of working past despair, exasperation and loss, but it’s also a gorgeous lesson in persevering through suspicion, mistrust and happiness. With “Welcome Back,” a song dedicated to his recently departed father, Ireland establishes the first condition required for a second attempt: hope. The narrator dreams about coming back to his father’s house, a place where weakness is forgiven and salvation resides. Yet on this emotion-flooded album, huge doubts surface right away. In the next song, “Right Back Where I Started,” Ireland tears off the line I should have known [rain clouds would] find me/Cuz happy never lasts. Ireland gradually comes back to hope and to things even bigger — faith in someone else (“I’d Like To”), faith in yourself (the title track) and the irrational yet hopeful willingness to agree to a second try even before the first fails. In the final song, the gentle, acoustic “Let Me Hold You,” the cycle comes full circle, with Ireland offering solace to someone else, singing, These little tears in my eyes/They look a lot like mine. Ireland might not have intended Try Again as a primer on staying whole in a world bent on chewing people up, but it works that way. The fact that it’s the best country album so far this year is just gravy.

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