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*** Joe Henry, "Fuse," Mammoth.

April 03, 1999|MARC WEINGARTEN

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.

** Ginuwine, "100% Ginuwine," 550 Music.

With his rippled abs and dreamy, come-hither gaze, Ginuwine is one of R&B's leading lady killers. But unlike Brian McKnight or even R. Kelly, he is not a great technician or stylist. What Ginuwine does have in his corner is master producer Timbaland, who backs up Ginuwine's timid vocalizing with dense backing tracks that hop and skitter all over the place, adding grit and funk to otherwise mediocre material.--M.W.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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