March 12, 2001 12:00 PM

Duncan Sheik (Nonesuch)

Album of the week

STARS “1”

Mellow doesn’t begin to describe this folkish new album from one of the most admired singer-songwriters of the last decade. Maybe that’s because Phantom Moon is a collaboration between that songwriter, Sheik, 30, and New York playwright Steven Sater, 38, who met through a Buddhist organization. Featuring songs that positively levitate on Sheik’s buttery voice and quietly picked acoustic guitar, the CD occupies an otherworldly state of calm. In contrast with the romantic longing of Sheik’s previous efforts, Sater’s lyrics add a heady, contemplative air. British ’70s singers Cat Stevens and Nick Drake are obvious influences, but Sheik, who grew up in South Carolina, adds some distinctly American-heartland heft. Groove-based songs like “This Is How My Heart Heard” and “A Mirror in the Heart” suggest laid-back country rockers like the Eagles.

Bottom Line: Pop singer hits a higher plane

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