Their name might not be as globally recognized as the likes of the Cranberries, the Corrs, and more recently, the Script, but in their homeland, roots rock outfit the Saw Doctors are second only to U2 in terms of Ireland's most successful musical acts Celebrating an illustrious recording career which has spawned seven multi-platinum albums and 18Top 30 singles, To Win Just Once: The Best of the Saw Doctors is the highly unfashionable but well-loved quintet's first compilation in seven years. The 22-track collection shares two songs ("World of Good," "Small Bit o Love") with 2002's hodge-podge of rarities and singles, Play It Again Sham!, but features 14 of 1997's hits package, Sing a Powerful Song's track list, giving an indication of how early-career-heavy this release is. Indeed, over a third of the album concentrates on 1991's Mike Scott-produced debut album If This Is Rock 'n' Roll, I Want My Old Job Back, which introduced the Emerald Isle to their unique blend of rockabilly, punk, country, and Celtic folk, including a live performance of "N17" and number one hit, "I Useta Lover," the country's biggest-selling single of all time. While four tracks apiece make the cut from 1992 sophomore album All the Way from Tuam, including second Irish chart-topper "Hay Wrap" and "Never Mind the Strangers," famous for its use in a U.S. beer commercial, and 1996 follow-up Same Oul Town, including their only U.K. Top 20 hits "World of Good" and "To Win Just Once." Their post-1996 output is badly under-served with just one inclusion from 1998's Songs on Sun Street ("Joyce Country Ceili Band") and two from 2005's The Cure ("Last Summer in New York," "Stars Over Cloughanover"), while 2001's Villains is ignored entirely. It's a puzzling selection, considering their last four albums have been released on their own Shamtown label, while the two new tracks included, the Levellers-esque "She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not," and an unexpectedly jaunty singalong cover of Sugababes' "About You Now" (which returned them to the top of the charts after a 17-year absence), show the band haven't exactly lost any of their trademark pub rock charm. To Win Just Once's over-reliance on their early-'90s material wrongly suggests the band's best days are well behind them, but as an overview of their heyday, this uplifting, toe-tapping retrospective more than serves its purpose.
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AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien