Today, driven by the musical force that brought them together in the first place 20 years ago, the reunited quintet has risen from the ashes of its own demise stronger, wiser and with a rush of creative energy and diversity that has manifested itself on Restless Heart’s first studio release together in 14 years, Still Restless.
In the modern era of country music groups, where MTV-looking boy bands with angel-voiced crooners and slinging guitar players vie for platinum albums alongside more traditional-sounding groups with layered harmonies, there is a shadow of the past and future in each of them, and they know and profess it – the shadow of Restless Heart. The tones of songs like Rascal Flatts’ “I’m Movin’ On” resonate with a contemporary sound that was introduced some 15 years ago to country listeners with the resounding acceptance of hits such as “Long Lost Friend” and “I’ll Still Be Loving You. And Diamond Rio built their own unique harmony, as tight as a clenched fist, in their hits such as “Meet in the Middle” and “Beautiful Mess” on the echoes of an earlier sound found originally in the vocal laces of Restless Heart songs like “Why Does It Have to Be Wrong or Right” and “Dancy’s Dream.” These and other artists, including solo acts like Brad Paisley, credit Restless Heart and the legacy they created for their own success.
With such widespread influence, it seems undeniable that as certain as Alabama left its mark as the voice of Southern country music of the 80’s, it is Restless Heart that has earned the right to claim its title as the forebear of contemporary country music with a pop flavor, and it dominated the charts with that sound from 1985 – 1994. From “Let the Heartache Ride” to “When She Cries” and “Tell Me What You Dream,” no other band was able to so consistently turn out a string of hits so instantly identifiable – the intertwining vocal blend led by Larry Stewart, the deftly sweeping keyboards of David Innis in concert with the masterful guitar of Greg Jennings, all backed by the steady rhythm section of drummer John Dittrich and Paul Gregg on bass.
Today, as the quintet comes together for the release of Still Restless, they continue to lead the pack by choosing songs of conviction and maturity and recording with innovative creativity. Working for the first time with producers Kyle Lehning (Randy Travis) and Mac McAnally (Jimmy Buffett), the group has once again forged new musical paths for themselves. There are more acoustic instruments here, as in the Dobro and fiddle heard in the cover of The Beatles classic, “The Night Before.” Other surprises include the dance-beat, pounding vibe of “Yesterday’s News,” while “Same Boat Now” shows an upbeat social consciousness. “Makin’ Hay” is the rocking burner of the collection, with a short but no-questions-asked guitar solo from Greg that lights a fire under the driving keyboards from David.
As always, Restless Heart offers ballads as few artists can, and the ballads on Still Restless are no exception. “And More,” “Every Fire,” “Down the Road” and “Miracle” all tell of love in its many, sometimes complex versions with stirring emotion and great compassion. John takes over the lead vocals on the haunting “Looking Back,” the story of woman who lives a reckless life with disastrous results even though “she never saw it coming.”
It’s possible that the same thing happened to Restless Heart in their earlier days. Creating a new sound in a music genre and basking in their enormous success led to pressures and excesses the five men didn’t expect. The popularity that came with four gold albums and 15 Top Ten hits, including “The Bluest Eyes in Texas,” “A Tender Lie” and “Heartbreak Kid” insisted on the group’s constant attention, and the band found themselves endlessly on the concert trail and in demand for interviews and appearances. The constraints began to wear on the men.
“We didn’t handle our successes as well as we could have and should have,” remembers Larry. “We were out on the road constantly and the atmosphere was less than appealing to go to work in every day.”
“I wasn’t prepared for the music business – none of us were,” admits David. “I took it all completely for granted. I really thought I was God’s gift. Restless Heart had records in the charts. I had written ‘Dare Me’ as a  hit for The Pointer Sisters. Heart and George Benson and Peter Cetera had my tunes. I was clicking as a writer, clicking as a session player. I had an enormous ego. I thought I was really on fire.”
After a while, it became too much. Larry left the band for a solo career in 1992. With John on lead vocals, the release of Big Iron Horses that same year led to one of Restless Heart’s biggest singles ever. “When She Cries” was a winner for both country and crossover audiences and remains a fan favorite. Although they continued to have commercial success, the group eventually disbanded after the release of 1994’s Matters of the Heart, emotionally used up from ten years of the unrelenting pressures of superstardom.
Everyone took their own paths. Larry had a Top Ten hit with “Alright Already” in his solo career. John joined The Buffalo Club, which had a 1997 Top Ten hit titled “If She Don’t Love You.” Dave joined pop star Richard Marx (“Right Here Waiting,” “Hold on to the Nights”) for a world tour in 1995, while Greg joined Vince Gill’s band. Paul “swore off the music business forever” and went into business as the owner of a chain of car washes.
Ultimately, however, it was music and love for each other that brought the five men back together - wiser, stronger and Still Restless for what they had and what they could do when they were a unified force.
The closing song on the new album, “What We Know Now,” takes the opportunity to look back at all the band has been through, put it behind them and move forward into a future full of optimism and opportunity.
“We were reckless, young and proud/We had the whole thing figured out,” they chorus. “We never saw the writing on the wall/Even though we thought we knew it all/Oh my friend, if we knew then what we know now.”
So then, knowing what they know now, what is the Restless Heart legacy, and where do they go from here?
“What we were able to accomplish when the odds were against us, in a way, just by the nature of our music and where we were coming from,” says Larry of that earlier time. “We just went and made music, and it took off from there and somehow we had success. Looking back, we go, ‘Wow, we did do that!’”
“Let’s just start from square one, you know, let’s start over and look forward,” adds Greg. “We appreciate what we had, and we’d love to keep doing it.”