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The languorous "Circles and X's" opens with her singing a cappella, worrying neither about intoning a cliche like "It's raining cats and dogs" nor about the nakedness of her craggy -- and richly emotive -- alto. The raucous "It's a Long Way to the Top" revisits familiar travails of the rock-star life but does so with a performance worthy of the Rolling Stones' "Exile on Main St."

"Plan to Marry" begins with an unexpected political turn, only to pluck our heartstrings with testimony about how love between two people can spark hope for the possibility of harmony on a national and global scale. Echoes of Williams's earlier alt-country triumphs are here as well, notably the gorgeous "Tears of Joy," an undulating, blues-steeped ballad redolent of "Still I Long for Your Kiss."

Yet most of this record finds her stretching. Doubtless, some will find the unabashed eroticism of the title track a bit over-the-top, but given how exultant Williams sounds, it would be churlish to begrudge her any lack of subtlety.

-- Bill Friskics-Warren

DOWNLOAD THESE:"Real Love," "Tears of Joy" and "Plan to Marry"

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