Back in the day, Joe Henry used to be an alt-country guy, interesting but classifiable. Now he's writing songs titled "Richard Pryor Addresses a Tearful Nation," the opener of Scar that features a sax solo from free-jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman. With prior albums "Trampoline" and "Fuse," Henry had inched further and further out on an artistic limb. "Scar's" experiments will likely sharply divide people; some are not going to buy into Henry's vision while others are going to see him as a virtuoso able to pull off the musical equivalent of, oh, juggling chain saws. Or of Richard Pryor's daring comedy.
The CD has smooth R&B-tinged songs ("Mean Flower"), snaky, expressionistic tunes ("Stop") and lovely torch songs ("Lock and Key"). Guitarist Marc Ribot's downtown funk/ jazz vibe comes through in the wah-wah of the instrumental "Nico Lost One Small Buddha." The whole strange shebang comes to a close with the title track, a poetic ballad where Henry sings of love as "as mark so fine/ but still a scar." It's a transporting finish to a fascinating CD.