West Coast roots-music pioneers Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen join forces once again with bluegrass/new acoustic titans Tony Rice and Larry Rice for a follow-up to their 1996 debut Out Of The Woodwork. Perhaps as the result of some touring, the foursome emerges as a more cohesive band, in contrast to the "recorded event" feel of the earlier release. While Woodwork took the easier route of reprising more than its share of highlights from the artists' pasts, this disc finds its strongest moments in a half-dozen new songs. Tony Rice's brooding guitar cadence on the opener, "Doesn't Mean That Much Anymore" (written by Hillman and Steve Hill), sets a restrained mood that prevails through most of the album. Tony's fluid lead and backup work are a binding force as instrumental and vocal lineups shift from song to song. Herb Pedersen's banjo is used to good effect, not only on the straight- ahead bluegrass cuts but also deep in the mix on several of the ballads. Hillman and Larry Rice trade mandolin duties, and share them on several songs. Clearly though, the emphasis is on vocals, and as before, the addition of Larry Rice's grainier voice as an offset to Hillman and Pedersen's crystalline solo and duet work provides welcome variety and texture. Noteworthy among the new material is Larry Rice's atmospheric "The Year of El Nino"; its Latin 6/8 beat pulls the group into directions only occasionally visited by fiddles and dobros. Hillman's fervent "I Will" is one of the better lover-as-underdog anthems to surface in quite a while. By and large, the cover material is well selected, with Pedersen's reading of Mike Brewer's "Hearts Overflowing" a particular standout. They falter only on superfluous, back-to- back versions of "Never Ending Song Of Love" and "Friend Of The Devil", standards that come off as filler.