By Ron Wynn

Despite having an immediately identifiable name, extensive track record of hits and supreme confidence in their abilities, Restless Heart lead singer Larry Stewart admitted to being just a little bit nervous about the impending release of the group’s first new studio release in 14 years Still Restless on Tuesday.

“It took almost four years for us to record this new release,” Stewart said. “When we started doing live shows again at the end of 2000 it was like getting back on the bicycle. But it was still a question of getting the right songs for the band and of making them work in the studio. It had been a long time since we’d done that type of project and a lot has happened with country music, so we took our time.”

The results represent both subtle enhancements and the familiar sweeping harmonies and heartfelt leads that established Restless Heart as a contemporary country group of the ’80s and ’90s. The major musical change was adding some new ingredients into the mix.

“We had never done a lot of songs with either a steel guitar or fiddle. … This time those instruments were very prominent. We also brought in some friends to work with us where before we mostly played on everything ourselves. The sound is a little more raw, more earthy, and we weren’t as concerned with trying to get everything perfect.”

These changes can be heard on such songs as “Yesterday’s News,” which has a more direct and steadfast rhythmic pulse than expected, as well as the dobro/fiddle interaction that underscores the strong vocal passages on their cover of the Beatles’ “The Night Before.” Still, no Restless Heart album would be complete without the trademark ballads, and this disc’s strong menu includes “Every Fire,” “Down The Road” and “Miracle,” plus the masterful “Looking Back,” which features drummer John Dittrich on lead vocals.

Still Restless features all five original members, with keyboardist David Innis, guitarist Greg Jennings and bassist Paul Gregg joining Stewart and Dittrich. The CD was co-produced by industry heavyweights Kyle Lenning and Mac McAnally, whose credits range from Randy Travis to Jimmy Buffett. There are also contributions from several ace session players, particularly Jerry Douglas.

Stewart views the new project and upcoming dates as phase two in the group’s career. The founding members garnered four gold albums and 15 Top 10 singles during their first run, with such singles as “A Tender Lie,” “The Bluest Eyes in Texas,” “Why Does It Have To Be Wrong or Right” and “I’ll Still Be Loving You” (Stewart’s choice as the group’s favorite single) not only dominating the country charts with a string of six consecutive No. 1 hits but also generating widespread crossover acceptance. But after winning the 1989 Academy of Country Music Vocal Group of the Year award, conflicts over direction and ego clashes eventually caused the group to split.

“We were talking recently and thinking back to how little we really knew and understood about the business the first time around,” Stewart said. “We made so many mistakes and yet we also really loved working together and singing, and that’s what ultimately brought us back together.”