Country-music fans and bluegrass fans are not necessarily one and the same. As a result, some country music purists may be missing out on one of the finest country albums released in recent years: J.D. Crowe and the New South's "Somewhere Between."

Long regarded as one of the premier bands in bluegrass (as well as a finishing school for Ricky Skaggs, Tony Rice and Jerry Douglas), on this album Crowe's New South turns the clock back on this album to a time when an honest lyric and a simple arrangement were the rule in Nashville, not the exception.

The arrangements for each tune, including some vintage material by Merle Haggard, Lefty Frizzell and Tom T. Hall, are pure country sound, underscoring the lyrics rather than overwhelming them. A mournful waltz, a country chestnut, a bluegrass-tinged ballad are all treated the same: The music is direct, and, apart from traditional instrumentation and the classic harmonies crafted by the Jordanaires, unadorned.

There are, to be sure, glimpses of Crowe's sparkling banjo, but the real strength of the album lies in the soulful, sometimes disconsolate vocals turned in by Keith Whitley. Whitley's grainy baritone is a storyteller's voice. Like Merle Haggard, Whitley knows how to make a lyric meaningful and emotion palpable. And the sound of uncompromised country music comes alive again. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM J.D. CROWE AND THE NEW SOUTH -- Somewhere Between (Rounder 0153). THE SHOW J.D. CROWE AND THE NEW SOUTH, Friday and Saturday at the Birchmere.