Joe Henry sings from the bottom of the emotional well, then spends most of the time trying to make his way up to level ground. Casting a jaundiced eye toward relationships, the veteran singer-songwriter writes in a magical realist style that's both florid and elliptical, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez recast as a boho folkie. The songs on "Fuse" are peopled by animals, circus acts, eccentric harridans and various oddballs. "I'll keep your monkey/I'll feed him good," sings Henry. "And maybe someday you'll come back to me." It's alternately creepy, comical and strangely moving.
"Fuse" is relentlessly gloomy, but it's never a downer. Henry and engineer T-Bone Burnett shroud everything in a crepuscular glow, with quiet, avant-pop arrangements that seem to hover just underneath Henry's soothingly gruff voice. "Angels" crawls along on a droning organ riff and swatches of neo-soul guitar. "Fat" can almost pass for trip-hop, with its ambient beat and backward vocal loop, and the instrumental "Curt Flood" is what jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery might have sounded like if he had been produced by Massive Attack. Henry's singular sensibility is an acquired taste, but that shouldn't deter anyone from savoring "Fuse's" astringent pleasures. Henry plays the Troubadour on April 29.