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Rickie Lee Jones and Her New Message of Hope

`Flying Cowboys,' singer's first album in five years, offers more maturity - but minus her previous spontaneity. RECORDINGS: INTERVIEW

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SHE's back - the ``Duchess of Coolsville,'' as the critics dubbed her - and she's hipper than ever. Rickie Lee Jones, beatnik sweetheart with a voice of velvet, has just completed her first album in five years, ``Flying Cowboys.'' For her fans, it was worth the wait. Like the singer herself, who is now a wife and mother, ``Cowboys'' is more mature than Jones's earlier work. This album shows her as a talented musician, and, produced by Walter Becker, it has a consistency that Jones's earlier albums lacked. Songs range from reggae (``Ghetto of My Mind'') to the spectacular title track, to smooth pop in ``Satellites'' (released as a single), a new version of the 1960s Merseybeat classic ``Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying,'' and the melodic ``Rodeo Girl,'' on which Jones plays all instruments except drums.

Unfortunately, ``Cowboys'' lacks the quirks and spontaneity that made Jones a breath of fresh air when she hit the music scene with a splash in 1979 and won a Grammy for ``best new artist'' with her debut album, which included the hits ``Chuck E.'s in Love'' and ``Danny's All-Star Joint.'' This new album is more polished - perhaps a letdown for fans of her first work but likely to appeal to a larger audience.

Reached by phone at home in southern California, the singer spoke about her music, about growing up, and about the loves of her life: her husband, musician Pascal Nabet-Meyer (whom she met in Tahiti when she was looking for a ride to the Gauguin museum), and their two-year-old daughter, Charlotte Rose.

``I think it's simpler, more defined musically,'' says Jones of ``Cowboys.'' The songs are still stories about people - her specialty - but they're shorter and more contained.

Jones, who describes herself as ``a jazz singer who writes stories,'' says that half the time she writes music first; other times the lyrics inspire the music.

``Sometimes they take years, and sometimes they take a week,'' she says, laughing and adding quickly in her characteristic self-cross-check: ``Well, I don't know if they take a week. One probably took a week.''

When she's not making her own music, Jones is most likely listening to her old ``heroes'' John Lennon, Frank Sinatra, Van Morrison or to new bands like Blue Nile from Scotland and the Pogues from Ireland.

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