MWE3.com

HALF MOON BAY - Profile & artist interview by Robert Silverstein 

With a timely dose of sonic brain relief, Rick Sparks channels the music gods on his 2018 CD, Half Moon BayA fine follow up to Rick’s 2017 CD Nightfall London, the ten track Half Moon Bay features a wealth of new original music along with a decidedly Southern California influence, especially when you consider there’s several Brian Wilson classics, redone here in Rick’s New Age / contemporary instrumental music style. Fascinating to note here is the album title track, “Half Moon Bay”, itself a cover of a Brian Wilson instrumental from 2015’s No Pier Pressure, Rick adds, “How natural that Brian titled his song “Half Moon Bay” after a little surfing community on the California coast. That song was the perfect choice to be the title cut on my new album.” Rick cites his strong religious beliefs as the foundation for his spiritual approach to music to which he adds, "I can’t imagine not having the inner peace and assurance that comes from my Christian faith. It’s so natural that whatever is in the heart of an artist will be evident in his or her music. In a world that is increasingly dark and worrisome to all of us, producing music that helps the hearer experience peace and beauty is such a privilege for me… it’s basically an outgrowth of the peace that comes from my faith in Jesus Christ. He created the universe, He gave us the priceless gift of music, and He proved His love for us a long time ago on an old rugged cross." A gifted musician who grew up in the heartland of the American south, Rick Sparks transcends musical borders on the brilliant and soothing instrumental sound of Half Moon Bay, an album that, as Rick appropriately states, “feeds the soul, inspires and uplifts.”www.ricksparksmusic.net

mwe3.com presents an interview with 

RICK SPARKS 

mwe3: Can you tell us where you’re from originally and where you live now and what you like best about it? What states have you lived in and have you done much traveling to other countries?

Rick Sparks: I was born in Atlanta and moved to Tennessee when I was 7… my family are all from the Smoky Mountain region. I always feel like I’m home when I’m in the mountains of East Tennessee. There’s an incredible beauty but also mystery and aura in those mountains. I think part of it comes from the heritage of the Cherokees who called those mountains home. Over the years we’ve lived in Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, Arkansas and finally South Carolina, home for us now for over ten years. South Carolina is a beautiful state with access to both the beach and the mountains, a very friendly and welcoming place to call home. Other than an anniversary trip to the Caribbean several years ago, we’ve never been out of the U.S. but we love the cultures and people of other lands, especially Europe and the Far East.

mwe3: What is it about religion and the spiritual power of music that inspired you most to make a career in music? 

Rick Sparks: Growing up in small country churches in the 1960s, I was immersed in the same southern gospel music that Elvis knew and loved since childhood. In a similar way to my friends in the black church, I learned as a child that you could intertwine the joy and beauty of heartfelt music with faith in Christ. We were always in the Baptist church, where I started playing piano publicly when I was 15. 

mwe3: How did your career as a Top 40 radio DJ back in the 1970s and ‘80s give you unique insight into the world of pop music? 

Rick Sparks: I love Tom Petty’s comment about pop music: “Every generation thinks their music was the best, but in my case, it’s true.” There’s a reason for the huge popularity now for the pop, rock and R&B of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s – it was just flat good. I had the great fortune of playing those songs on the air in the 1970s and ‘80s. As both a radio guy and a musician, I was in awe of how finely crafted a lot of that music was, from artists who really cared about making something worthy and not just commercial with their art. From The Beatles and Beach Boys to James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Linda Ronstadt, and The Carpenters, the artistry and care taken in those recordings is still very evident today. They definitely had a part in inspiring me to give my best effort as a composer and recording artist. 

mwe3: Did gaining a masters degree affect your love of music and your abilities as a musician and composer? 

Rick Sparks: I think a music degree definitely helped me with the technical aspects of composing and performance. Also, like Brian Wilson and so many other great pop artists, it gave me an appreciation for classical music. I eventually came to realize that the iconic music of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms was produced by musicians who were driven by the same deeply felt emotions that the best musicians of any era experience and express in their music.

mwe3: You’ve recorded four solo albums since 2014. How would you say that your 2018 album Half Moon Bay is different from your other albums? I thought Nightfall London was great but I’m thinking Half Moon Bay is even cooler.

Rick Sparks: Great question! Each of my 4 albums since 2014 has been a bit different than the others… each has had a particular theme, as suggested by their titles. From Endless thru Matilda’s FlowersNightfall London and now Half Moon Bay, a unifying theme or concept for each album really helped inspire the music for that album. With Nightfall‘s atmospheric album cover of Westminster Bridge, the Thames River and Big Ben at night, the mood was chill but a bit more classical, especially in my use of strings which was inspired, in part, by the great Sir George Martin. He used a classical string quartet to great effect with “Eleanor Rigby” and other songs. I love the beauty and craft of what he did with classical instruments to enhance the Beatles’ songs during that era. With Half Moon Bay, the mood is still down tempo, but maybe in a more contemporary way than my previous albums, especially given the inclusion of three Brian Wilson songs. 

mwe3: Would you say that your 2015 album Nightfall London is similar in a kind of pop / New Age instrumental mode as your 2018 album Half Moon Bay? I ask that because you’ve said that Nightfall London was influenced by Beatles producer Sir George Martin, while Half Moon Bay was influenced by Brian Wilson, founder and guiding light of The Beach Boys, so there’s a definite connection there.

Rick Sparks: Absolutely! Both albums were inspired in part by contemporary, and timeless, pop music/musicians. While they could definitely be innovative in their approach to composing and recording, George Martin, Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson seemed to most favor melodic songs with traditional structures. Likewise, I’m most content in my music when I take a Neoclassical approach in both the sounds I use with piano, strings, flute, choral voices, as well as to write distinct, and hopefully lovely, melodies in traditional song structures.

mwe3: How would you say that Jesus Christ affects your music? Clearly, God gave Brian Wilson a unique gift that benefits mankind as has been proven for the past 55 years. There’s a kind of hopelessness in the world these days, so how can God help mankind through these times?

Rick Sparks: I love Brian’s quote that “music is God’s voice.” Brian also has said since the 1960s that God gave him his songs. In my liner notes on Half Moon Bay, I dedicated the album in part “to Jesus Christ – your love and mercy fill my life every day.” In John 14:27, Jesus told His disciples, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” I can’t imagine not having the inner peace and assurance that comes from my Christian faith. It’s so natural that whatever is in the heart of an artist will be evident in his or her music. In a world that is increasingly dark and worrisome to all of us, producing music that helps the hearer experience peace and beauty is such a privilege for me… it’s basically an outgrowth of the peace that comes from my faith in Jesus Christ. He created the universe, He gave us the priceless gift of music, and He proved His love for us a long time ago on an old rugged cross.

mwe3: Brian’s 2015 album No Pier Pressure featured the original version of “Half Moon Bay”, which is also the title of your new album. Brian’s song was originally also an instrumental. How do you feel your version is different? Interesting that Mark Isham, one of the great instrumental music composers is also on Brian’s 2015 version.

Rick Sparks: I love that song. It made such an impression on me the first time I heard it, I knew immediately that I would record it. I think the song Half Moon Bay expresses Brian’s heart as a survivor who has finally found a place of peace in his life. Mark’s trumpet solo is magnificent and really gives the song a beautiful character. My version is a bit more chill, a bit quieter, but it still follows Brian’s arrangement and overall ambience. 

mwe3: You call Half Moon Bay summer chill music. Is that mainly because of the three Brian Wilson covers? What makes a good summer inspired album or song in your estimation and would you consider making an album devoted to the four seasons? What are your favorite summer songs?

Rick Sparks: Another great question! I think the ambience for Half Moon Bay was suggested, in my mind, by the fact that a lot of us experience the ocean as a place of escape and well-being. It’s a place where we can relax and soak in the sun, the water, the blue sky and the pleasant company of others. Alternately, it can be a place of solitude. Regarding albums devoted to the seasons, George Winston did all right with that concept, didn’t he? Brian’s songs with The Beach Boys are always great at evoking summer, but some other summer favorites of mine are “Summer Breeze” by Seals & Crofts, “Saturday In The Park” by Chicago, “Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers and “Hot Fun In The Summertime” by Sly & The Family Stone. 

mwe3: The lead off track on Half Moon Bay, “Sand and Stars” is quite haunting too. It has a kind of George Martin-esque melody that for some reason reminds me of London and even the Beatles, the band that George Martin produced. What inspired “Sand and Stars” and would you say it’s a good way to open your new album?

Rick Sparks: I chose “Sand and Stars” for the lead track because it introduces all the elements you hear in the rest of the album, both musically and thematically, framed in a simple piano melody that, for me, evokes a nighttime walk on a white-sand beach under a starlit sky. The ethereal elements, opening strings and angel-voice bridge, were suggested by the endless expanse of the night sky over the beach. The strings probably reflect some George Martin influence, either single violin or a string quartet.

mwe3: Track three is an original called “Sunlight In Her Hair”. How did you recreate the string sounds on the track? It’s an interesting track in that it sounds multilayered. What synth keyboards do you feature on the track and could you tell us what pianos and synths you play on that track and also on the entire album? What other instruments did you feature on that track? It’s just amazing how real the string sounds are.

Rick Sparks: I used much more guitar on this album than my earlier albums, including electric guitar, to give a contemporary ambience to the songs, as well as a nod to Brian Wilson and the Beach Boy heritage. I used an acoustic guitar sound to frame “Sunlight In Her Hair” from beginning to end, starting simply and building throughout the song with the addition of strings to do countermelody with 3 and 4-part harmony. 

All the sounds are from my Yamaha MOX8 synthesizer workstation, which has the MOTIF XF sound engine. They’re all digitally sampled from actual instruments, so they do sound pretty real when used appropriately. My piano sound of choice is the Full Concert Grand on the MOX8, sampled, I think, after Yamaha’s CFIII concert grand piano. I love Yamaha’s piano and string sounds Romantic Strings, as well as the Nativity voices I used on Half Moon Bay and my other albums. I arrange those as either single-voice or 3-part harmony, which Brian Wilson describes as “sounding like angel voices”… appropriate for a voice called Nativity. The acoustic guitar voice is 2 Steel Strings, the electric guitar is Dual Coil 80s Clean, flute is Sweet Flute, bells are J Pop.

mwe3: “You’re So Nice” kind of reminds me of Brian Wilson, even though it’s a Rick Sparks original. Maybe it’s the chord sequence. I also sense a little Satie classical kind of influence. Were you also influenced by classical composers like Satie or more by pop melodocists like Brian Wilson and even Burt Bacharach? Would you say, “You’re So Nice” has a kind of minimalist undercurrent?

Rick Sparks: “You’re So Nice” is the only piano solo on the album – as a pianist, I wanted to do at least one solo. As with Brian, piano is and will always be my favorite instrument. I improvised “You’re So Nice” from beginning to end in one take, taking the “less is more” approach to compose a simple, sweet song. The title may have been prompted by Meghan Markel’s supposed response when her friend suggested she meet Prince Harry: “Is he nice?” 

As with Brian Wilson, I usually compose a melody around chords. In this instance, I started with two major-key chords and then adapted those chords with a descending pattern using inversions… also like Brian. A pretty and effective approach that yielded a lovely, sweet song. No influences from others that I can think of… except I notice that I’ve mentioned Brian 3 times in this answer!

mwe3: “Ocean Blue” kind of gets back to the ocean theme that seems to permeate the Half Moon Bay album. What other kind of influences inspired “Ocean Blue”? For some reason, I feel the track also has a kind of progressive electronic influence and it’s very haunting too. Does the track start off with guitars? 

Rick Sparks: Yes, electric guitar frames the entire song. The title was suggested by Dennis Wilson’s only completed solo album, Pacific Ocean Blue. Because of that, Dennis was on my mind as I composed this song – it could be a poignant tribute to his love of the ocean. I tried to capture the grandeur and beauty of the sea, with angel voices lending a peace and sacredness which I think Dennis might have sought thru his love of the ocean.

mwe3: “First Light” is interesting in that is almost sounds like a segue following “Ocean Blue”. Did you consider joining them as a suite? Is “First Light” kind of an early morning type song and do you write mostly in the morning or night?

Rick Sparks: That’s a wonderful idea, Robert – it might well have been a suite. It’s a quiet, minimalist mood piece with just a touch of angel voice to double the piano melody and create a peaceful ambience. This is another song evoked by the sea, in this case, sunrise over the water. I write whenever the inspiration strikes... day or night.

mwe3: “Lonely Sea” is another Brian Wilson track, this time written with the late Gary Usher. What’s your connection to that song? Wow, it goes way back to the summer of 1963. Happy days indeed. It seems like The Beach Boys were one of the first bands to write and sing about adoring the ocean or as Brian and Gary called it… the lonely sea. Were you able to hear his Gary’s album Celestium from the early 1980s?

Rick Sparks: I love “Lonely Sea”, it's one of those hidden gems in the Beach Boys’ catalog, which features Brian’s wonderful, plaintive solo. I’m amazed that I’d never heard the song until I found it while searching through Brian’s songs in research for Half Moon Bay. It’s now one of my favorite Beach Boys songs. I loved Gary’s contributions as a collaborator for Brian… I will have to give Celestium a listen.

mwe3: “Whisper In the Wind” is sort of a reassuring moment after the expansive “Lonely Sea”. Maybe being back on land again isn’t so bad. Did you set out to make a kind of comforting type of song with “Whisper In the Wind”?

Rick Sparks: I did, Robert. Whisper In the Wind has another simple, major-key melody, this time with piano giving a bit of gentle rhythm with a flute lead. Very comforting, especially with the addition of angel voices.

mwe3: “Sunset Dreams” is another peaceful dream like track that makes sense as it follows “Whisper In The Wind”. It seems more New Age in a way as there’s not too much synth backing on that track. Is “Sunset Dreams” one of your most peaceful tracks?

Rick Sparks: Yes, it is peaceful and that was intentional. I knew when I was writing it that this would be my last original track on the album, before ending with Brian’s “Summer’s Gone”. In a way, it’s a bit of a farewell song, just as sunset is farewell to the day and foretells the approach of dreams and peace. 

mwe3: I had forgotten “Summer’s Gone” as a Brian Wilson track and I just remembered it was the closing track on the Beach Boys comeback album That’s Why God Made The Radio. What did you think of that album? Seems like a very sad track or is it hopeful song in your opinion… now that summer ’18 is over this weekend… 

Rick Sparks: I loved that Brian and the Beach Boys were able to do one last album together. That’s Why God Made the Radioprovided some desperately needed closure to the band that, at its heart, was really always Brian’s group. The album contained some great Brian songs, including the title cut and “Summer’s Gone”. The perfect song to end that album and the perfect song to end my album. Yes, the end of summer is a bit sad, but as always with Brian’s songs, even the sad ones make you feel good.

mwe3: So with Half Moon Bay gaining support and interest among your fans every day, do you have some way to sum up the album and how it fits into your career and how it might lead to other plans you have in store for the coming year in 2019? Speaking of the Beach Boys, 20/20 is coming up soon.

Rick Sparks: I’ll just say what Brian likes to say at the end of his interviews: “I hope you like my music.” It was a special honor for me to include 3 of Brian’s songs on Half Moon Bay; doing so really raised the bar for me as a composer. I hope the album reflects the love and care that I put into both his songs and mine. I’m really looking forward to seeing Brian for the first time in concert with his incredible band this November in Augusta, Georgia… can’t wait! As for future Rick Sparks projects, maybe a Christmas album next year? We’ll see... 

MainlyPiano.com

(Kathy Parsons has chosen Half Moon Bay as a "Kathy's Pick" album - "highly recommended.")
Half Moon Bay
Rick Sparks
2018 / Rick Sparks Music
48 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Half Moon Bay is pianist/keyboardist Rick Sparks’ fifth album to date and is a combination of seven original compositions that celebrate the peaceful nature of being by the ocean plus three instrumental arrangements of songs by Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys).
Right upfront, I want to stay that there are no toe-tappers on this album - Wilson’s pieces are quiet and serene - no “I Get Around” or “Little Deuce Coupe” (although that could have been interesting with strings and “angel voices.” But I digress!). To quote Sparks: “There’s something special about the ocean. The beach is a great place to relax, meditate, commune with nature, fall in love, nurture love or just escape from the pressures of everyday life.” There are so many different moods and colors of the ocean, but Sparks keeps this album centered on the tranquility of calm seas and gentle breezes. As a result, the tone of the album stays very even throughout - no storm warnings or pounding surf. So, if you are looking for a real stress-buster to unwind with or to set a warm and cozy mood, Half Moon Bay should do that for you!

Half Moon Bay begins with “Sand and Stars,” a piece for piano, strings, guitar and wordless vocals. This piece could be used to define the word “peaceful” with its slow graceful flow and sense of complete calm. Images come to mind of a night with a full moon and brightly sparkling stars reflecting off of the water as it gently laps at the shore. The title track is the first of Wilson’s songs on the album. Named for a small coastal town on the central California coast, the piece first appeared on one of Wilson’s more recent albums (2015) and reflects on the inner peace that Wilson found later in life. Guitar, flute, layered voices and synth strings are the primary instrumentation in this beautiful piece.
The title for “Sunlight In Her Hair” comes from a line in The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” and is mostly acoustic finger-style guitar and synth strings - slow, melodic and smooth as glass. “You’re So Nice” is the only piano solo and captures the sweet innocence of first love - a favorite! Much more ambient, “First Light” was inspired by the peace and solitude of an early-morning sunrise over the ocean. Piano, layered voices, and synth effects evoke gentle pastel images and soothe the soul - also a favorite. “Lonely Sea” was originally recorded in 1962, early in The Beach Boys’ career. It begins with the sound of crashing waves before strings, flute, guitar and voices express the deeply poignant nature of this beautiful song. “Summer’s Gone” was on The Beach Boys’ final album in 2012. Piano, strings and voices create feelings of longing and nostalgia while reflecting on the warmth and beauty of past memories. I think I’ve turned into one big puddle, but it sure feels good!

Half Moon Bay is one of the most relaxing albums I’ve heard in a while, so if you need a little calm in your life or know someone who does, this is an excellent choice! It is available from Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby.
October 6, 2018

Midwest Book Review - Library CD shelf

Half Moon Bay
Rick Sparks
www.ricksparksmusic.net
Privately Published
$9.99 CD / $8.99 download cdbaby.com

The fifth album by new age keyboardist Rick Sparks, Half Moon Bay is a blissful soundscape that encapsulates the leisurely splendor of a summer beach. Serene and drifting, Half Moon Bay includes one solo piano piece ("You're So Nice") as well as contributions from electric guitar, fingerstyle guitar, flute medley, and more in tribute to the sounds of nature.

A blend of original music and selected covers, Half Moon Bay is a treasure for relaxation, meditation, or inspiration, highly recommended. The tracks are "Sand and Stars", "Half Moon Bay", "Sunlight In Her Hair", "You're So Nice", "Ocean Blue", "First Light", "Lonely Sea", "Whisper In the Wind", "Sunset Dreams", and "Summer's Gone".  -James Cox, managing editor, Midwest Book Review

Midwest Record

RICK SPARKS/ Half Moon Bay: So when was the last time you heard a new age piano record that had several Beach Boys tunes on it? The vet piano man loves the ocean and fondly recalls his days on the Carolina coast as a rejuvenating experience that he now wants to share. A delicate set that eases you into things, this is a fine soundtrack for clearing the mental palette of the dross of the day. Check it out. -Midwest Record, 9/1/18

Spirit Passages

"Nightfall London by Rick Sparks is a 'quiet piano' CD with lots of rich layers and textures from synthesizers as well as from acoustic instruments such as violins, strings, flutes and chimes. This is an ethereal, gentle and also transcendent recording."

"We get a LOT of "new age/neo-classical" CDs to review but many are repetitive and frankly boring. This CD is the exception I was waiting to hear! This is sensual, warm and uplifting music for the soul. Recommended!" -Evelyn Rysdyk, Spirit Passages e-dispatch

Veritas Vampirus

RICK SPARKS – Nightfall London (2017 / Rick Sparks Music)

Nightfall London is Rick Sparks’ fourth release, but you needn’t worry too much about the London aspect, as his gently soothing miniatures are just as descriptive of an evening spent quietly as stars emerge over the Smoky Mountains, or a slope of the Rockies, or a glade in the Great Plains, or even your own back patio after a hectic day at the office. Nightfall is indeed, though, anglophilic – inspired by the skies over Big Ben, the London Philharmonic, Sir George Martin, Paul McCartney, and others – but its embrasure of classicalist largos, adagios, fugues, and the more thoughtful modalities broaden everything out to wrap around the entire Earth.

Sparks holds a large affinity for angelic choral work and thus more than once has inserted beautiful synthesizer patches as transcendent as the refrains first crafted by Palestrina, Lassus, and others, later refined into opuses by Harold Budd and, returning to England, the Eno brothers and the early Moody Blues. In many ways, the introductory cut, “Across the River”, is the showcase for everything in the disc, a slow wistful composition brimming over with skyborne cherubim, washes of tone and color, and echoes of earth and the galactic reaches communing in nature’s unhurried rhythms. 

Sparks’ main instrument is piano, and it uninsistently dominates a number of cuts, taking a back seat whenever the composer-player chooses to go with synthesizer patches calling up the electric version of the instrument. And when I say “uninsistent”, I do not mean that the piano recedes to the background but instead that it's clear and resonant without needing to overemphasize itself, far more in the way of Satie, Tim Story, Liz Story’s more considered opuses, that sort of thing, what Budd described in his own work as “simply pretty...and utterly devastating”.

“Highland Rose”, however, departs a tad from the rest of the oeuvre. A love song to Sparks’ wife, it carries distinctive Celtic refrains via a synth flute patch and melody line cleaving to “The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond”. The entire tone of Nightfall London, though, is serenely pacific, blending the cosmic with the terrene, and a vastly superior example of the “anti-frantic alternative” movement, more so than all of Steven Halpern’s way too many releases combined and doubled. You’ll most definitely be smiling as you wend your way through the 10 tracks ofNightfall London…and perhaps through that glass of merlot complementing it. Bon sonic appétit!

One World Music Radio

"Nightfall London must be ranked as one of the best new-age albums I've heard this year." -Steve Sheppard, One World Music Radio. Click above on "One World Music Radio" in white to hear Steve's audio review!

"When I think back, I have had an extensive career in broadcasting and media and I am always amazed when I come across albums that remind me of my past and Nightfall London does just that, in fact the melodies and performance style takes me back to my fledgling years as a broadcaster on local radio in the late 90’s. In those days New World Music was a label at its peak and the sound of New Age melodies floated forever across my turntables. Nightfall London returns me to my new age music roots, but also brings us up-to-date. It captures all that was good back then and releases new energies to the world with a lush sweet production."

"Listen to the opening piece called Across the River; this has to be one of the prettiest beginning pieces I have heard for ages. It has a delicate angelic repose; the piano is ethereal and loving. This is one of those tracks that you could easily watch the nightfall over any place or bridge in the world; the narrative is so redolent of the subject matter and drawn so well."

"The title track is amazing and of course called Nightfall London, the opening bars are a real scene setter, swirling back and forth, and creating musical imagery with every note played. I use to live just down the road from London, it was my place of birth and while things have changed there, this piece of music, creates for me a memory filled palace of emotive moments, of when I was a child and looked at everything, and saw only goodness with an innocent wide eyed wonder."

"After a classic moment of new age musical brilliance with the title track, we’re once again on our musical journey and we come across a composition called Little Angel. The performance here is ultra-delicate; it is as if we are a china doll waking up to find that we are alive in a world so vast an incalculable. Listen to Sparks on piano here, the fluency is amazing and a pleasure to listen to."

"The sound of a distant flute greets our ears on this next track called First Love. This is actually a very clever composition, a steady build and growth of musical mastery can be found here, but somehow Sparks takes on the subject of love, which at times can be both painful and all-consuming, and covers all the bases musically with a consummate ease."

"At the half way juncture, we shift location and find ourselves walking in the Tokyo Rain. The performance style gives us a subtle, but calming motif of an eastern flavour. One day I would like to go to Japan and I may well include this delightful piano piece on my playlist if I do, it would be perfect. A supremely well played arrangement indeed and one that depicts with ease, a warm summer rain drifting down from the skies above, and onto the puddled streets of Tokyo."

"As we now move deeper into the album we come across a charming composition called Beyond the Stars. A personal favourite subject of mine all of my life; I am a firm believer of an abundance of life throughout the universe. This track has a really beautiful flow to its arrangement and really reminds me once again of early new age music, from artists like Terry Oldfield and Stephen Rhodes. One can also find a movement of a slow rotation within this piece, perhaps our journey through and beyond the stars to the many myriad of dimensions that lay in waiting for us."

"Now it does seem rather strange for me, I’m sitting here in shorts and a short sleeve shirt, in temperatures of near on a 100f, and listening to In the Bleak Midwinter. The funny thing is it is one of a couple of carols that I do find most appealing. Once again Sparks does not only do the original song justice, he adds to its initial construction, by bringing an angelic choir and orchestration into the mix, I will have to remember this one for my Christmas playlists."

"We are now drawing to the end of the release, and we find a lovely track called Hearts as One waiting for us in the corner of the room, to the left of the log fire, this is charming. I mention the fire, only for the purpose of the romantic vision that it draws in my mind’s eye, as I could see myself laying with my beautiful wife upon a fur rug, snuggled up as our hearts beat as one to this stunningly heartfelt composition. A more romantic and all loving piece you would not find elsewhere."

"Our penultimate offering is called Highland Rose and it also gifts us a little moment of Celtic magic as well. The piano of Sparks manifests a painting of the highlands with ease, and whilst the tune plays and the melody wraps itself around our senses, we can drift off to a place so remote, but blissfully beautiful to behold. This is the skill of a master composer, listen as the orchestration kicks in, it’s subtle, but draws a compelling and graphic narrative."

"The end of the road has been reached with Rick Sparks and we are gifted just one more song to take with us along on our way, this one is called Evening Prayer. A gentle piece is created before our willing ears, and what a clever and respectful way to leave the album. Listen carefully to the calming and healing manifestation of chords and notes here, it is really exquisite and the addition of the ethereal choir only added to the magnificence of the overall composition."

"Nightfall London has indeed brought me full circle and I thank Rick Sparks for his efforts on this album, it has been created with love and intention and a delicacy of care and attention. Nightfall London must be ranked as one of the best New Age albums I have heard this year, its production and quality, along with its stylish and creative and self-assured performances, will bring a smile and a warmth to all who listen to this release, you just have to make Nightfall London part of your musical collection."  -Steve Sheppard, One World Music Radio

Wisconsin Bookwatch

Nightfall London
Rick Sparks
www.ricksparksmusic.net
Privately Published
$9.99 CD / $7.99 download cdbaby.com

"Nightfall London is a beautiful new age album designed to aid relaxation with its tranquil piano music, gently arranged with synthesizer to add layers and depth. Some electronic keyboards and individual string instruments, flutes, chimes, and choirs enrich this restful, revitalizing collection, highly recommended especially when winding down after a long day."

"The tracks are "Across the River" (5:25), "Nightfall London" (4:58), "Little Angel" (3:08), "First Love" (4:28), "Tokyo Rain" (4:29), "Beyond the Stars" (4:03), "In the Bleak Midwinter" (4:19), "Hearts As One" (4:29), "Highland Rose" (4:58), and "Evening Prayer" (5:28)."

MainlyPiano.com

Nightfall London
Rick Sparks
2017 / Rick Sparks
47 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
5 stars! 
A longtime fan of all things British, Sparks was inspired by the beautiful photo that became the album cover showing London at dusk with Big Ben standing regally yet gracefully near the Thames. Sparks explains: “The music of Nightfall London was inspired by the strings of the London Philharmonic, the ethereal voices of an English choir and the somber beauty of twilight over Big Ben. Even more specifically, the enduring legacy of Sir George Martin was a constant inspiration to me in my arrangements, especially the string parts.”

Nightfall London begins with “Across the River,” a gentle piece that could be about the Thames, but could also be a metaphor for the “crossing” that occurs at the end of our lives. It opens with a full string intro before becoming a piano solo that is occasionally accompanied by ethereal choral voices (no lyrics) and/ or strings - a lovely start! The title track also begins with a string prelude, but instead of piano, the primary instrument in this piece is a bell-like keyboard voice that is haunting, but very peaceful. Choral voices again enhance the beauty of the music and give it an even more spiritual feeling.
“Little Angel” was inspired by the headstone on an infant’s grave in an old mountain cemetery in Tennessee. Sad, but also expressing hope and acceptance, it’s a very poignant and touching piece. “First Love” expresses the wonder and magic of that very special time in our lives when we first really connect with someone. Piano, flute and strings convey tenderness and the sweet emotions of that experience.
“In the Bleak Midwinter” is the only cover song this time, and this arrangement is for piano, choir and strings. “Hearts As One” is a love song, pure and simple. “Evening Prayer” closes the album with “an evening prayer of peace and gratitude to the Almighty for blessing my life with the priceless gift of music and the love of friends and family.” Amen.

Nightfall London is a great way to unwind with piano-based music that overflows with hope, faith, and peace. It is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!

Midwest Record

"I've never thought of London as an especially quiet city, particularly since 'En-ga-land swings like a pendulum do,' but a picture of Big Ben at dusk inspired the quiet piano work here."

"A smart mostly solo set that finds Sparks' London much more pastoral than I would, but you can't argue with things that work. Kick-back music perfectly tailored for sonic getaways, this is quite solid restful work for when it's time to stopper down."

"No noodling here, contemporary instrumental fans have a winner here. Check it out."

MainlyPiano.com

"Matilda’s Flowers is a collection of ten gentle instrumentals assembled as a tribute to pianist/composer Rick Sparks’ grandmother. Included are seven original compositions, a wonderful cover of Sting’s Fields of Gold, and arrangements of two favorite hymns. Most of the songs have digital orchestrations in addition to the piano, and the music is intended to take the listener to a place of peace and quiet renewal."

"Matilda is remembered as a strong but gentle woman 'who loved flowers, her family and her Lord Jesus,' and these pieces express those qualities so well. The album begins with the title track, a warm and affectionate piano solo that reflects the sweet innocence of the cover artwork. The painting by Ludwig Knaus (1829-1910) is of a young girl picking an armload of flowers in a field - and the piece is a favorite!"

"Memories of Her makes me think of Kevin Kern’s tender melodies - always a treat! The piano plays at a leisurely tempo with string washes adding pastel tonal colors."

"I love Sparks’ arrangement of Fields of Gold! It begins with the sound of heavy rainfall and thunder, giving way to flute, keyboard and strings - gorgeous and soul-satisfying! Nothing But the Blood is the first of the two hymns. Various keyboard sounds and voices keep the heartfelt melody simple and very effective."

"Mountain Laurel is another favorite. A piano solo for most of the first half of the piece, strings and wordless vocals are added to the second half. I love the graceful simplicity of the melody and the contented feeling of the piece."

"Old Tennessee is a nostalgic look back to a less complicated time - also a favorite. Tildy’s Waltz is a charming solo piano waltz that alternates between major and minor modes, giving the piece a bittersweet taste - my favorite piece on the album!"

"Nearer My God To Thee is said to have been played by the ship’s orchestra as the Titanic sank in 1912, the year of Matilda’s wedding. Sparks has arranged it as a lovely piano solo that brings the album to a close."

"Matilda’s Flowers is an excellent second release from Rick Sparks! It is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!" -Kathy Parsons, September 19, 2016

Creations Magazine

"Mr. Sparks subtitled this work, Quiet piano to replenish your spirit. It’s a fitting subtitle."

"Opening with a Gordon Lightfoot cover (Beautiful), which Sparks makes all his own, the album progresses with other excellent covers and original compositions. His clean and sure piano is augmented to great effect by synthesized strings and vocals, always in tasteful balance to his star-turn piano playing."

"The title song, Endless, inspired, as was the album in its entirety, by the star-filled night sky, is exquisite. The Wexford Carol is another standout."

"Highly recommended."

Wind and Wire

EXCERPTS FROM BILL BINKELMAN'S REVIEW:

"I find myself amazed at how professional and accomplished some artists' first or second releases can sound these days. It's almost as if these recording musicians come out of the gate as seasoned pros! Such is the case with Rick Sparks."

"Sparks' use of keyboard textures and embellishments, to accent his mellow and warm piano lead melodies, is way ahead of many of his contemporaries."

"Star-shimmering synths kick off the first track, a cover of Gordon Lightfoot's Beautiful... what a fantastic opening track - it had me hooked on the first playing!"

"Endless is, to me, one of the top albums of 2014... gorgeous graphics, flawless production and virtuoso performance."

Music and Media Focus

EXCERPTS FROM MICHAEL DIAMOND'S REVIEW:

"Rick's goal is to create music that 'feeds the soul,' and he has certainly done that on Endless, an album full of grace, beauty and spiritual inspiration."

"(There's a) sense of longing and mystery in the album's evocative title track, which I found quite moving."

"Lovely and delicate piano melodies, washes of dreamy ethereal synthesizer and accents of acoustic guitar."

MainlyPiano.com

EXCERPTS FROM KATHY PARSONS' REVIEW:

"It's a beauty from the stunning cover artwork to every note of music."

"All of the songs are wonderful, but I hope Sparks will grace us with more of his originals next time!"

"I love the title track, a gentle and soothing piece that suggests vast open spaces and infinite peace - this is a must-hear!"

"Rick Sparks' new career as a recording artist is off to a great start! If you are looking for some quiet, heartfelt piano music, be sure to check this one out! Recommended!"

Improvijazzation Nation

"From the cover art and the liners, it’s clear that Rick was thinking of (or maybe looking at) the sky when he composed this… some simple, yet wonderful, sonic experiences that remind us of how timeless music can be. All you have to listen to is the first few bars of the opener, Beautiful, to be convinced of his mastery in music."

"I’m highly impressed with his gentle, yet emotionally filling, touch on the keyboards, and the sonics he’s woven together with tunes like the majestic Wexford Carol will fill you with the kind of joy that only high talent in music can bring. It was the wonderful weave of voices on Loch Lomond that made it my favorite of the ten tunes Rick offered up for your listening pleasure… the pacing on this one is just fantastic, like you’ve never heard it before."

"I give Rick a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an EQ (energy quotient) rating of 4.98. Get more information about this great artist at Rick’s website." -Dick Metcalf, Improvijazzation Nation

New Age Music Reviews

EXCERPTS FROM DANA WRIGHT'S REVIEW:

"The blend of original works, cover songs and historic favorites make this album a wonderful listen."

"Loch Lomond is pure magic. The ethereal nature of this piece was a shiver of delight."

"If you want a respite from the world this holiday season, have a sit-down with Endless. It is a joy to the world."