LEAVE IT to Cheryl Wheeler to nail down the perverse pleasures of attending an estate sale: "Going through dead people's houses/wonderful things they have collected/open the drawers and trunks and closets/don't leave a corner uninspected." And then to tag the song with an ironic twist: "I bet we make some young strangers happy when we die."

"Estate Sale" isn't the only song that stands out on "Circles and Arrows," Wheeler's third album, but it is the one tune that radiates the kind of offbeat humor that liberally spikes her concerts. The rest of the album is concerned with matters Wheeler is more apt to take seriously. Romance ("Hard Line to Draw"), heartbreak ("Aces" and "Don't Wanna"), remorse ("Miss You More Than I'm Mad"), homesickness ("Northern Girl"), loneliness ("When You're Gone") and longing ("Arrow") top the list, and while the topics are hardly novel, Wheeler not only explores them with genuine craft as a songwriter but delivers them in a lovely, often poignant voice that sometimes suggests a cross between Mary Chapin Carpenter and Tracy Chapman.

Granted, nothing on the album is apt to make as big a splash in country music as Dan Seals's recent chart-topping cover of Wheeler's song "Addicted," but that kind of recognition isn't likely to elude her forever.

CHERYL WHEELER -- "Circles And Arrows" (Capitol). Appearing Saturday with Dave Allen at the Birchmere.