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First impression: Keith Richards' 'Crosseyed Heart' solo album

First impression: Keith Richards' 'Crosseyed Heart' solo album
Rolling Stones songwriter and lead guitarist Keith Richards performs with the group in San Diego on May 24. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

What do you do when your bandmate and songwriting partner happens to be one of the most celebrated lead singers in all of rock 'n' roll?

If you're Keith Richards, you largely keep your mouth shut and be content to be one of the most celebrated lead guitarists in all of rock 'n' roll.

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Still, from time to time you might have something to say, and so Richards has stepped to the mike with "Happy" back when the Rolling Stones recorded "Exile on Main Street" in 1972, and on two solo albums, "Talk is Cheap" in 1988 and "Main Offender" four years later.

Given the Stones' pace in the studio of late, which at best might be described as "deliberate" (their most recent album, "A Bigger Bang," is now 10 years old), Richards is now set to release "Crosseyed Heart," just the third solo studio album of his half-century-plus recording career.

The Times' will have a formal review closer to the album's release date in September, but on Tuesday night in Hollywood, a group of about 50 people got an early listen to an album that features a core band of drummer and singer Steve Jordan (who co-wrote most of the songs with Richards), guitarist Waddy Wachtel and multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell.

Among the guests: the late Bobby Keys, the Texas saxophonist whom Richards often described as his musical soulmate after they met in the late-'60s. Also on board is singer Norah Jones, who engages with Richards in a duet on "Illusion," along with the great Muscle Shoals organist Spooner Oldham, New Orleans singer Aaron Neville and his son Ivan Neville.

As always, Richards' ragged voice is an instrument that's more serviceable than distinguished -- it's the equivalent of a crude raft that can take the user from one bank of a river to the other, not traverse long distances with tremendous style or panache.

Yet Richards gets emotions across in the album's 15 songs, and that's always been what rock 'n' roll is about. The album opens with the title track, just Richards playing guitar and croaking a vocal that connects him with the Delta blues, which has always been a cornerstone of his guitar-playing.

Several songs offer up big Stones-like rockers with beefy grooves and tasty guitar work, which is probably what most listeners look for in a Richards album. But it also contains tracks that are sweetly reflective, occasionally regretful and often vulnerable, qualities you might not always expect from one of rock's most notorious anti-heroes who, at 71, is not only a husband and father, but a grandfather and, most recently, a first-time children's book author.

More to come on this project.

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