Country rocker Joe Henry has taken a bold step away from the sweet, soulful twang of his past with his new album Trampoline (Mammoth/ Atlantic). Though the soothing cool of his voice remains, the baroque instrumental flourishes–like pretty piano figures and pedal-steel embel-lishments–marking previous efforts, such as 1993’s terrific Kindness of the World, have largely been replaced by something more slippery. Leaving behind country’s homey melodicism, Henry has forged a weird amalgam of white-boy soul, off-kilter funk, and sleepy pop, but how he mixes this strange brew is the real highlight. Though he avoids the downright oddness of Tom Waits, the new record reveals his influence. The sorrowful “Flower Girl”–an effective elliptical meditation on desperation–melds dreary pump organ with the tension-producing cries of an ethereal community choir and an operatic soloist, while a sedated take on Sly Stone’s “Let Me Have It All” brilliantly incorporates slinky grooves without approaching the buffoonery of faceless funk-rock combos inspired by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The dark lyrical tones receive a simpatico match in the music’s brooding loveliness throughout. Live Henry has that rare ability to exude a cool, slow-burning passion without histrionics. Scud Mountain Boys open. Wednesday and Thursday, 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 525-2508. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jo Ann Callis.