Scar (Mammoth) Scar
is the third CD since Joe Henry traded in his B-team Jayhawks status for a kind of drowsy trip-hop motif, and it was a smart move. With his deliberate, choked-off delivery, he slips right into the genre, while his songcraft brings it something entirely new. Henry has had artistic aspirations from the beginning and the talent to see them through. Over the course of eight LPs, he's retained an uncanny knack for the unforgettable song ("Some Champions," "Ohio Air Show Plane Crash") on what are largely inconsistent efforts. Scar
improves on this dilemma, yet in a way, that's the problem. The album's consistently good, yet devoid of the knockout punch. It certainly sounds gorgeous. Co-producer Craig Street, who's worked with Cassandra Wilson and Meshell Ndegeocello, seems to specialize in the smoldering sonic slow burn. Basses ring, strings swell, guitars moan, the arrangements are letter-perfect, but Scar
never quite catches fire. "Rough and Tumble" is a romp that fails to reach a higher plain, and his version of the terrific song he gave his sister-in-law Madonna, "Stop," ventures way too far into Tom Waits territory, with Marc Ribot in tow. Jazz musicians Brad Mehldau and Brian Blade both contribute nice work, but the big surprise is the strange and wondrous appearance of Ornette Coleman, whose presence on the opener, "Richard Pryor Addresses a Mournful Nation" contributes to the CD's best song. It's a sad and transcendent tale told at a morphine-drip pace, and like most of Scar
, a winning moment that seems like it could have been so much more.