HEART & SOUL

Torn apart by infighting and music-biz pressure, the old friends in Restless Heart finally put bygones aside and rediscovered the magic of their musical partnership.

One day not too long ago, the five original members of Restless Heart got together in Nashville, plugged in their instruments and played as a band for the first time in over a decade.

Appropriately, they cranked up with the namesake tune "Restless Heart," from their 1985 self-titled debut album. By the time the song was finished, these 40- and 50-something men had tears in their eyes and goosebumps on their arms.

"I thought, 'Damn, these guys are good!' " says keyboardist Dave Innis, who had been the final piece of the reunion puzzle to come into place. "It was just so comfortable."

That rehearsal sealed the deal - the band that had 1980s and early-'90s smashes like "Wheels," "Bluest Eyes in Texas," "A Tender Lie" and "When She Cries" was officially back in action.

When Restless Heart was falling apart - singer Larry Stewart left in 1992, followed by Dave a year later; by 1996 the band finished completely - a reunion seemed unlikely. The rift between Dave and bass player Paul Gregg, in particular, was deep.

"Dave and I had always been pretty close," explains Paul, as the group relaxes in their Nashville management office. "When people who like each other get crossways, it really hits home. So when Dave left the band, he and I parted pretty bitter - to the point that we didn't call, speak, write or have any communication whatsoever for over 10 years."

It was a sad end for a group whose existence was a lucky accident to begin with - formed in 1984 at the urging of a Nashville producer looking for musicians to cut demos, they discovered such an unexpected, unique chemistry that they struck out on their own.

And they couldn't have been more successful. They earned four gold records, were named 1989's Top Vocal Group by the ACM and had 15 Top 10 hits, including an amazing string of six consecutive No. 1s.

But by 1996, the dream had gone sour. "It was growing pains," says Paul. "Trying to figure out who we were, what was really important. Ten years later, it's a lot easier to see the mistakes that you've made and learn from them."

In 1998, the band marked the release of their Greatest Hits album by tentatively re-forming without Dave. But it took an emotional phone call from Paul to his former pal to make the full-fledged reunion happen.

"I didn't know if he'd talk to me or not," recalls Paul, "and if he did talk to me, what he would say. But we talked and laughed and cried - and really got things back on track.

"It was a really personal thing, rather than professional. When you can go back and refill a void like that, it's a pretty soulful experience. It was very rewarding for me to be able to make that connection again."

"But there was no mention of a reunion," notes Dave. "It was just, 'How the heck are you?' I was so glad that he called."

Three months later, Paul called again - this time, to suggest that Dave come back to Nashville and rehearse with the band. Dave jumped at the offer, and the reunion was off and running.

The reinvigorated band tested the waters with a short tour, which turned into a longer one. They had picked up where they left off - except now they were older, wiser, more relaxed and no longer burned out.

"It was like riding a bicycle," says Larry.

"More like a Harley!" quips Dave. "It's fun to get out and play - where it wasn't, honestly, always fun before."

As they made their way from show to show, the band was pleasantly surprised to see familiar faces. "It's great to see fans that have been faithful to us since the beginning," says Paul. "It's very rewarding that they're still there, and they still care enough to drive long distances and shell out money for a ticket."

Finally, the band felt sure enough about their second life that they decided to make a new album - the first featuring the original lineup since 1989's Fast Movin' Train. The fivesome set up shop in Muscle Schoals, Ala., in a studio built inside an old mansion perched next to a cliff.

"We went into it in a spirit of complete cooperation," recalls Dave. "All the egos got left at the door, and everybody was supporting everybody else. There was no competition. The vibe was fantastic."

And what does the result sound like? "It's the same five guys playing all the instruments and singing, so it's very reminiscent of the old stuff," says guitarist Greg Jennings.

But some things have changed - like the relentless perfectionism of their '80s and '90s albums. "Sometimes we worked so much on the records that I think that the warmth and love wasn't there," says drummer John Dittrich. "I think we were trying to be too perfect."

"It was maddening at times," Paul chips in. "I think people want to hear the human side, they want to hear those flaws."

"Are you saying this record is flawed?" shouts Dave, flaring with mock anger.

"It's flawlessly flawed!" Paul exclaims with a laugh.

Fans won't have to wait much longer to hear Restless Heart's flawless flawedness - their song "Feel My Way to You" is lighting up radios across the country right now, and their album is set for a November release. And with any luck, that won't be the end of the story - all the band members agree that the reunion was not just a one-time thing. "We're ready to move into this thing full-time," says Larry.

Restless Heart is looking forward to having a lot more fun this time around.

"It's a lot more relaxed," says Paul. "I think a lot of the pressure is off. We've been through a lot and grown up a lot."

"It just feels really good to be back," says John.

"And we all say, 'Amen!' " proclaims Dave, as his bandmates and old friends break into laughter and indeed give him a hearty "Amen!"

-- Chris Neal

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