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Sunday, Sept. 28, 2003

Listening post: Live

The rock world tends to be unforgiving of blatant sentimentalism, so it's just as well that Victoria Williams is considered a country-folk tunesmith with the heart of a jazzbo, even though her songs have more to do with rock. The best evidence is "Sweet Relief," a tribute albums actually worth owning. Released in 1992, the record features the likes of Lou Reed, Soul Asylum, Pearl Jam and Evan Dando covering Williams' impressionistic songs to raise money for the singer, who had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis but lacked medical insurance.

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The album did more then set the Louisiana native on the road to recovery; it solidified a cult. Her next album, "Loose," was a celebration of good dogs and ordinary people that was so infectiously upbeat you could be forgiven for not realizing that some of these dogs and people were dead. But Williams wasn't, which seemed to be the point. After marrying Mark Olson of The Jayhawks, she released her masterpiece, "Musings of a Creekdipper," in which she made unabashed nostalgia safe for those of us who keep our nostalgia tucked safely away on the top shelf of the closet.

"Creekdipper" and the followup, "Water to Drink," make greater use of all-out jazz, which is the kind of music that Williams' peculiar high warble seems best suited for. Recently, she released "Victoria Williams Sings Some Ol' Songs," an album of standards recorded here and there over the last decade, but it's likely that when she tours Japan this week, she'll be all over the musical map. A famously generous performer, Williams has been known to scoop an audience into the pocket of her gingham shift and walk out the door with them.

Victoria Williams with Mark Olson and the Creekdippers: Sept. 29, 8 p.m., Thumbs Up, Yokohama (045) 314-8705; Sept. 30, 8 p.m., Shibuya Club Quattro, Tokyo (03) 3477-8750; Oct. 2, 7:30 p.m., Umeda Banana Hall, Osaka (06) 6361-6821; Oct. 3, 7:30 p.m., Kanazawa Mokkiriya (076) 231-0096. Tickets 5,500 yen at the door, except Shibuya, 6,000 yen. Oct. 4, 8 p.m., Tower Records Shibuya, free in-store performance.

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