THERE hasn't been a country-rock album as good as "The Desert Rose Band" since the days of the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. That may not be a surprise considering that the band is led by Chris Hillman, a founding member of those pioneering groups. Hillman, who has spent the last few years sharpening his chops playing bluegrass, has teamed up here with some other Los Angeles country-rock vets and created a record full of mature love songs, exquisite picking and superb harmonies.

Hillman has never been more emotionally convincing as a lead singer and it may be because he's penned some of the finest songs of his career (as well as reviving his Byrds original, "Time Between"). With Herb Pedersen singing and arranging the two-

and three-part harmonies, Johnny and Jack's "Ashes of Love" and the Osborne Brothers' "Once More" sound as graceful and propulsive as the originals. Hillman has spent most of his career as second fiddle in someone. Here, he has put it all together -- acoustic and electric instrumentation and country, rock and bluegrass styles -- and created one of the year's best country records, as well as proof that Southern California's country tradition is alive and kicking.

Of course, harmonies are what the Forrester Sisters, a sibling quartet from Georgia, are all about. While their third album, "You Again," finds them bouncing back from the sophomore slump, it still fails to live up to the promise of their sparkling debut. The problem isn't their effortless harmonies or freely swapped lead vocals, but rather the increasingly narrow character of their material.

Success in Nashville, as in Hollywood, breeds clones and since the Forrester's debut yielded hits in the form of pretty country-pop songs, they have mostly stuck with one-dimensional romances that play off their fresh-faced, hometown girl image. That's too bad, because when this quartet takes on a tune like the funky "Sooner or Later" or the rocking blues "Wrap Me Up," they inject a welcome dose of soul, sass, and sexiness into their otherwise well-scrubbed sound. THE DESERT ROSE BAND --

"The Desert Rose Band" (MCA-5991).

THE FORRESTER SISTERS --

"You Again" (Warner Brothers 25571-1). Both appearing Saturday at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.