AS RANGER DOUG of Riders in the Sky puts it, a lot of groups making their major label debut would probably "spend months and months in the studio" overdubbing and all . . . That would be the easy way, but it wouldn't be the cowboy way." And just what is "The Cowboy Way?" It's the trio's second live album, another mighty fine roundup of campfire classics leavened by cowpoke camp.

Considering how long these three have been on the trail, you'd figure they'd be a little saddle-sore by now, and material like "Mr. Sincere (State Fair Burnout)" and the kazoo-like "Concerto for Violin and Longhorns" suggests they may have sucked in more dust than Gabby Hayes. But then Ranger Doug cuts loose with a rip-snortin' yodel or the trio's tight harmonies fall into place on a great tune like "Carry Me Back to the Lonesome Prairie," and it's clear everything's right on the western front.

Fifteen selections in all, the album corrals the familiar ("Happy Trails," "Miss Molly"), the strange ("The Salting of the Slug") and the new, including the lovely "My Oklahoma." What's more, the western swing really swings, thanks in part to guest Rider Mark O'Connor.

RIDERS IN THE SKY -- "The Cowboy Way" (MCA 42040). Appearing Friday at the Birchmere.