Joe Henry Scar

After releasing four rootsy gems (two in collaboration with the Jayhawks), Henry took a sharp left turn with 1997's Trampoline, totally deconstructing his songwriting process with loose, jazzy arrangements and pop overtones. Continuing with 1999's Fuse, it was obvious he was one step ahead of artists like Wilco in shedding traditional songwriting affectations in favour of modern ones. Of course, it didn't always work, but at least it was interesting. In a general overview, Scar is simultaneously the most consistent and esoteric of Henry's last three albums, by the fact that cool jazz seems to be his current fixation. Thankfully, the temptation to slip into Tom Waits territory never takes hold. Instead, Henry's map for the album is marked by a unique cast of characters, such as "Richard Pryor Addresses A Tearful Nation" (featuring fellow iconoclast Ornette Coleman); "Nico Lost One Small Buddha" and "Edgar Bergen." There's also "Stop," the song his sister-in-law Madonna recently slaughtered under the title "Don't Tell Me." The highlight is the piano ballad "Cold Enough To Cross," which captures the same lushness that Mercury Rev did so beautifully on Deserter's Songs. As with that album, there's a sense that Scar was conceived somewhere at the beginning of the last century but still sounds like nothing you've ever heard before. Which I guess, in a word, means it's timeless. (Mammoth)