Sometimes Keith Richards' reputation as a hard-living, hard-rocking guitarist overtakes reality.

But on "Crosseyed Heart" (Republic), Richards' first solo album in 23 years, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer shows why he is one of rock's greatest guitarists.

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The first single, "Trouble," struts like a Rolling Stones rocker, with a great, bluesy solo and a catchy chorus that could stand against the band's later work. The lilting, reggae-tinged "Love Overdue" is even better, even as Richards struggles to hit some notes.

Obviously, singing is not one of Richards' greatest skills, but his limited range is fine on the rockers. And on the ballads, especially the lovely "Just a Gift," he adopts an effective delivery somewhere between Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. However, when Norah Jones pops in on the gorgeous "Illusion," it quickly becomes clear how a stronger voice could help many of these songs.

Nevertheless, Richards delivers a playful, folkie take on the classic "Goodnight Irene" that only he could offer, playing off his reputation with a knowing wink as confirmation that his legendary status remains intact.

THE GRADE B