HOT RIZE has established itself as one of the most impressive bluegrass bands in recent years, and anyone who doubts the group's worth should give a listen to "Untold Stories." It's easily one of the year's best string band albums.

This is a group that knows the value of economy. Their songs are as spare as their arrangements. Every word and note counts. There is nothing fancy on this traditional set -- unless that's how you describe the tight weave of Tim O'Brien's mandolin or fiddle and Pete Warnick's banjo. Tasty is a better word.

As instrumentalists, O'Brien, Warnick, Charles Sawtelle (on guitar) and Nick Forster (bass) excel at capturing the poignant simplicity of old-timey pieces like "Are You Tired of Me, Darlin' " and the Delmore Brothers' "Life's Too Short." When the sentiment calls for it, moreover, the group's vocals ache with that high lonesome sound. But perhaps the album's strongest assets are the new songs composed by O'Brien and Warnick. Crafty and ironic, they sit comfortably alongside the older tunes and evoke much the same heartfelt emotion.

HOT RIZE -- "Untold Stories" (Sugar Hill 3756). Appearing Saturday at the Birchmere.