Restless Heart Reunites for New Album
By Edward Morris
Restless. That's what Restless Heart calls its brand new, first studio album together in 14 years. And the title tells it all: The five-man group is still a torrent of tightly woven, pop-flavored vocal harmonies, still jockeying for its niche in Country Music, still made up of the same guys and – most significant of all – still here.
Comprised of seasoned musicians, including drummer John Dittrich, bassist Paul Gregg, keyboardist Dave Innis, guitarist Greg Jennings and vocalist Larry Stewart, Restless Heart made its debut on RCA Records in 1985 with the single "Let the Heartache Ride." Although it reached only No. 23 on the charts, every single thereafter for the next five years went Top 10 or higher. Six rocketed to No. 1 including such milestones as "I'll Still Be Loving You," "Wheels" and "Bluest Eyes In Texas." Sales were good too as four of the band's albums went Gold.
The '90s were less kind. First there was the sudden rise of the solo superstars: Clint Black, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson and Garth Brooks. Then there were the internal squabbles that sometimes afflict every group. Stewart, the band's distinctive lead singer, bowed out in 1992 to pursue a solo career. A year later, Innis took his leave. The remaining three principals carried on with supplemental players, but they never regained the stature of their glory days. Still, the Restless Heart brand carried cachet.
"We were offered [a deal] to put out a greatest hits package over at RCA, where we'd worked for so many years," Stewart said. "That was in '98. Four of the five of us [excluding Innis] got back together and put out the greatest hits thing and recorded two new songs with our old producers, Tim DuBois and Scott Hendricks. We ended up getting offered a Vince Gill tour. So we toured with Vince for a year or year and a half."
The reunion might have fizzled at that point had Innis not returned. "Scott Hendricks called me one day," Stewart related, "and said, 'Guess who I'm having lunch with today?' I said, 'Who?' And he said, 'Dave Innis.' ... Dave had been so far removed from all of us for so long. Then, all of a sudden, he comes back to town. It wasn't a real nice parting when he left."
Then Paul Gregg met with Innis. "They laughed and cried and buried the hatchet," Stewart continued. "Over the next days and weeks, we all talked about what it would be like for the five of us to get back together." When they convened for their first rehearsal, Stewart said, "It was awesome from the very first note."
Last summer in 2003, producer Kyle Lehning ran into Jennings at a jazz show.
"He and I have been friends for a long, long time," Lehning said. "I used him [as a guitarist] on a lot of records in the '80s." When Lehning discovered that the reassembled Restless Heart was thinking about recording an album, he offered to produce it. Ultimately, the band decided to use two producers, just as it had done since its inception. The other one it picked for the new project was the gifted guitarist and songwriter, Mac McAnally.
The band cut the tracks at McAnally's home studio in Muscle Shoals, Ala., and did the overdubs and mixing at Lehning's Nashville studio. "I don't think I've ever had more fun making a record than we had down there at Shoals," Lehning reflected. "It was great food, a lot of laughs and low pressure."
In the meantime, there was the matter of a record deal. The band's manager brought a proposal to Nick Hunter, General Manager for Koch Records Nashville, and pointed out that Lehning and McAnally had already signed on as producers. Hunter knew both men from his years with Warner Bros. Records. Lehning produced Randy Travis for Warner Bros. and McAnally had recorded for the label. "I said, 'Sounds like it makes sense,'" Hunter recalled. "I didn't go back and research or anything like that. We just went ahead and did it."
Still Restless has the musical effervescence of the group's earlier works. The first single, "Feel My Way to You," has already taken Restless Heart higher up the charts than it's been since 1993. Stewart co-wrote three of the 11 songs (including one with Jennings), and McAnally contributed three. There's even a song from The Beatles – "The Night Before" – which almost didn't make it.
"I think we tried six or seven takes on it, trying to copy the record, and we just couldn't do it," Dittrich admitted. "We were about ready to scrap it, and Mac got his 12-string [guitar] down and started a finger-picking thing that was a little bit quicker [than the original]. He said, 'Hey, come here and sing to this.' I sang to it – and voila! – there was the idea we were looking for."
Always alert for a good omen, Stewart is quick to point out that one song on the new album, "Every Fire," is co-written by John Scott Sherrill, who also wrote the band's first No. 1, "That Rock Won't Roll."
"Those guys are all really good musicians," Lehning emphasized. "Any time you're dealing with good players, [you'll find] they're always somewhat competitive. And when they're competitive, that means they've been paying attention to what's been going on. All of them were aware of records that had been made since they disbanded. So it wasn't like having to dust anybody off. We sat down and just started going. I think they've evolved very naturally. It's hardly as if they've been gone."
By Edward Morris
© 2004 CMA Close Up News Service
Photographer: John Scarpati
Photography courtesy of Koch Records
On the Web: www.restless-heart.com;