Interestingly, Stewart himself was not original to the band. Early demos instead featured Verlon Thompson, who would later record a solo album for Capitol in 1990, in addition to playing guitar and writing songs for others. He was replaced by Stewart, a college friend of keyboardist Dave Innis. Joining them were Greg Jennings on guitar, Paul Gregg on bass, and John Dittrich on drums. The quintet, as I mentioned, rode high in the 1980s, but their fourth album, 1990's Fast Movin' Train, was a sign of thing to come. Only two of its singles made Top 10 (the title track and "Dancy's Dream," two equally stellar songs), with the next two falling woefully short.
A 1991 Greatest Hits package followed, producing a #3 hit in "You Can Depend on Me." It found the band going for a much lighter and softer sound via the production of Josh Leo and Larry Michael Lee, the same team who would de-fang Alabama in the 1990s. Shortly afterward, Stewart parted the band, but stayed with RCA. The remaining four carried on for 1992's Big Iron Horses. At first, Larry's departure seemed like a blessing in disguise — "When She Cries," with Dittrich singing lead, was the band's biggest crossover (and my favorite song of theirs), reaching #9 on country, #11 on pop, and #2 on AC. They also got to the top of the AC charts alongside saxophonist Warren Hill on "Tell Me What You Dream." But all other cuts from the album failed to make as big a dent as their predecessors.
Cue Stewart's inaugural solo effort, "Alright Already", which coincidentally overlapped two of the singles from Big Iron Horses: "Mending Fences," featuring Gregg's oddly nasal voice, and "We Got the Love," also led by Dittrich. Without the wall of harmonies, Stewart proves nonetheless capable on his own, giving a slightly blues-y delivery reminiscent of the criminally underrated Lee Roy Parnell. Sturdy guitar riffs, trilling piano, and steel fills added a country-rock seasoning to a short, sweet observation of a former lover who's now happy with someone else ("She's alright already / And I'm just a memory"). 1993 was a fairly eclectic year — John Michael Montgomery and Garth Brooks ruled the roost commercially, with plenty of traditional-leaning males (Sammy Kershaw, Tracy Lawrence, John Anderson, Alan Jackson, and Clint Black, to name a few) and some offering more variation: smoother voices like Collin Raye, Billy Dean, and Vince Gill; the sensitive and folksy Hal Ketchum; and the intelligent Radney Foster. Even the rock feel of "Alright Already" had competition in the form of Confederate Railroad, Little Texas, Gibson/Miller Band, and Travis Tritt.
That same feel permeates "I'll Cry Tomorrow," with its lyrics like "Just as soon as my heart can find the time / I'll cry tomorrow / 'Cause I'm too busy livin' tonight" and an easygoing, Vince Gill-esque melody. But the names mentioned above made for a very crowded market, and it's entirely possible that the success of "Alright Already" was more out of curiosity than anything else. And his songs were indeed good, as "When I Close My Eyes" (which was already cut by obscure Epic Records artist Keith Palmer in 1991) was later a Top 5 hit for Kenny Chesney in 1997, and sturdy names like Kevin Welch, Troy Seals, and Jill Colucci are among the songwriters. The novelty of Stewart minus Restless Heart must've worn off fast, though, as "We Can Love" only peaked at number 62, and the album completely failed to chart.
Stewart tried again on Columbia Records in 1994, just as Innis parted Restless Heart, leaving the now-trio to turn out a total flop in Matters of the Heart. Faring no better, Stewart was 0 for 3 on hitting the Top 40 stateside, but "Losing Your Love" (co-written by Vince Gill) made #21 on the RPM charts in Canada. Once again, the album had one of its tracks become a hit for another artist in 1997: namely, Ty Herndon with "She Wants to Be Wanted Again." Also in 1994, the remainder of Restless Heart split up. Dittrich briefly joined the group The Buffalo Club, whose own one-hit wonder-ness has previously been covered in this column, while Jennings did a tour in Gill's road band.
After Why Can't You (released in 1996 with Patty Loveless' husband, Emory Gordy Jr., serving as producer) also failed to take off, Stewart and everyone else except Innis made a brief reunion in 1998, cutting three tracks for a second Greatest Hits package. The slick and surprisingly generic "No End to This Road" made number 33, and the group split again, thus freeing Stewart for what would be his final solo album. 1999's Learning to Breathe, helmed by pop and CCM producer Michael Omartian and released on the largely pop and folk-leaning Windham Hill label, showed a marked move to AC. While the years of experience in Restless Heart seemed like they could have primed Stewart for a successful genre shift, the album was also a bust.
Finally, after five years of inactivity, the entire 1984-1992 lineup of Restless Heart reunited for good. Their comeback album, 2004's Still Restless was a confident, energetic album hampered only by its cliché-riddled closer "What We Know Now." Unfortunately, the demise of Audium Entertainment's Nashville division not long after its release blunted it after only the single "Feel My Way to You." (And once again, it features another track that would later gain fame: namely, a take on Mac McAnally's beautiful "Down the Road," which Kenny Chesney took to #1 in 2009.) Restless Heart is now reunited for good, and still makes occasional tours.
Perhaps it was for the better that Larry Stewart was unable to make his mark. While his solo material and theStewart-less Restless Heart songs on Big Iron Horses were by no stretch lacking, the permanent reunion begun with Still Restless shows that neither is at its prime without the other — even a span of eight years is enough to develop a musical chemistry whose absence is never hard to notice. Stewart seems like he was just too firmly entrenched in people's minds as "lead singer of Restless Heart," so try as he might, he seemed never to fully escape that shadow. But most certainly, not for lack of effort.