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That voice, those words, that style

Rickie Lee Jones has had a brilliantly quirky career. Jones, 49, first made a splash in the late 1970s singing jazzy R&B numbers and winning the love of critics with her stellar self-titled debut, which featured the hit Chuck E.'s In Love.

Back then, Jones ran around with Tom Waits, Little Feat's Lowell George and other street poets who sang of life's grit, scenes Jones knew well: The singer spent the early part of her life traveling the country with restless, vagabond parents. Jones got kicked out of high school in Olympia, Wash. Her unconventional upbringing fueled her spirit and songwriting, and gave her an appreciation for life's kooky characters. Jones also wrestled with the demon alcohol, which sidelined her singing for a spell.

Jones' sharp songwriting, featuring loose and vivid wordplay, can be found on the brilliant Pirates (1981), which boasts the heartbreaking We Belong Together, and the impeccable Flying Cowboys (1989), a comeback of sorts.

Jones' remakes, too, are amazing. 1991's Pop Pop runs the gamut of Tin Pan Alley and rock. Check out Jones' laid-back, sublime rendition of David Bowie's Rebel, Rebel on 1993's Traffic from Paradise and understand how this lady can do something unique with a tune.

Rickie Lee Jones performs at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, 1010 N W.C. MacInnes Place, Tampa. $37.25. (813) 229-7827.

_ GINA VIVINETTO, Times pop music critic