I find it sort of funny that some folks describe some of the music on this album as meaningless, empty crossover country that sounds like a lot of the tunes coming out of Nashville these days. I say this because I am no fan of modern country music, but I love Sara Evans and I can't imagine how anyone could say Sara went on autopilot for most of the second half of this album. Sara has one of the best country voices in the business, and she expresses all sorts of feelings and emotions in everything she sings. I do prefer her earlier albums to this one, but Restless is still one great country CD. There's a good deal of variety in the songs, making each track something fresh and new to be enjoyed.
As usual, she opens with one of the album's strongest tracks. Rockin' Horse is a great song full of inspiring references to making something magical from the scary things life throws at you. It also features Vince Gill providing harmony; while Gill is not one of my favorites, he adds much to this song. Sara follows up with Backseat of a Greyhound Bus; the song's story is a country cliché, the unwed mother escaping her gossiping small town and finding a wonderful new life, but Sara's heartfelt delivery makes this probably the most memorable song on the album. Next up is Restless, a song tinged with Celtic-sounding instrumentation; this song didn't appeal to me all that much at first, largely due to a somewhat odd tempo to the chorus, but I have warmed up to it quite a bit now. I never had any doubts about the next two songs. Niagara is a fantastic love song, the kind of ballad that makes Sara such a truly special singer. Perfect doesn't have the depth of a typical Sara song, but it is the kind of catchy, upbeat song that all but begs for radio play.
I think country artists are pretty much required to include at least one song on each album that deals with longing for someone you broke up with, and Need To Be Next To You ably fills that requirement here. Sara sings this song with great feeling. The only sign of musical autopilot I can detect on this album comes in the song To Be Happy. The lyrics just seem a little simplistic, although the great bridge and chorus do much to offset the weakness of the verses. Tonight is easily the best ballad on the album, and I love this song even more every time I hear it - Sara is truly in her musical element on this one. Things get a little weird with Otis Redding; it has a unique musical style, sort of R&B restrained by country - this one took a while to grow on me but I still look upon it an experiment that need not be repeated on future albums. I Feel It Comin' On puts us back in country territory in terms of sound and message - someone's about to get dumped. I Give In is a strong offering about love vis-à-vis security. Big Cry is a little different, evoking touches of soul and R&B; it's not a bad song, but it really doesn't seem to convey the emotions implied by its title. Finally, of course, there is Suds in the Bucket; this is pure country music and a whole lot of fun to listen to.
A lot of Sara Evans fan may - like me - prefer her earlier albums to this one, but Restless is still a great CD showcasing Sara's unmatched voice. She goes wandering a little bit from the old country tree a couple of times, but those efforts have more positives than negatives. Like any great artist, Sara has to stretch her wings and grow musically. I can't see how anyone who loves music, especially country music, can come away disappointed from this album.