Rick Sparks | Bella | Album Review by Lissette Cascante, AuralAwakenings.com - 12/13/21
"An exquisite listening experience... finesse & tenderness... sweet softness." - Lissette Cascante
Bella (2021) - Review by Lissette Cascante, Aural Awakenings
Hailing from Greenville, South Carolina, ASCAP pianist and composer Rick Sparks’ soft music albums are heard worldwide on hundreds of radio stations, streaming channels, broadcast and online radio outlets.
Rick’s latest release Bella, his 7th album since 2014, was inspired by a 19th century painting (featured on the cover art) of a little girl looking up in prayerful expectation by Italian artist Roberto Ferruzzi who lived from 1853 to 1934.
The title track opens this exquisite listening experience, successfully capturing the essence of the painter’s intention in his portrait of beautiful Bella, as synth sounds of wordless angelic voices, and a soft piano are wrapped up in a dreamy melody, evoking a childlike innocence. Rick Sparks says “I am thankful to have found such a lovely inspiration for Bella's music. I very much desired that the album would reflect her transcendent beauty and the hope contained in her prayers.”
The album contains 7 new originals plus clever arrangements of three other songs such as Paul McCartney’s “My Valentine” which Rick interprets with crystal clear finesse and tenderness as flute and piano carry this unique melody. In “Smiling” taken from a current Omega watch TV commercial jingle, Rick pairs his piano magic with angelic synth voices adding a sweet softness, like the joy in a child’s smile. And in classical composer Antonin Dvorak’s poignant “Going Home” (from his New World Symphony No 9) Rick’s maestro arrangement for synthesizer and piano exudes a message of hope and reunion so many hearts yearn for in today’s world. This is one of my favorites in the album.
“Twilight Dreams” features pan flute, bells, and angelic voices. A dreamy composition envisions for me the beauty of a child in blissful slumber.
“Autumn Rain” speaks of a quiet, reflective moment in the decaying season of a year nearing its end. Beautiful yet melancholy, inviting a walk in the rain or gazing out of a window watching the leaves fall softly in the autumn wind.
“Highland Road” is a lovely Scottish flavored tune with pan flute, wordless voices and strings, piano, trumpet, transporting the listener to the scenic hills, open skies, and centuries old castles full of mystery, history and tales of a majestic land.
“Last Goodbye” with its ethereal synth sequence is a song for pondering on life’s losses, parting physically or in spirit, hopefully keeping the flame alive, as “A New World” melody takes you safely to your destination moving onward to uncharted territories.
With a clear, serene piano melody, Bella beckons us again in “Her Prayer”. It’s as if Rick pulled Bella out of her silence to utter her prayer, words of reassurance and serenity exquisitely expressed through musical interpretation.
Bella is a musical and spiritual experience which invites us to seek a strength beyond our physical confines and reach for that peace which passes all understanding, empowering us to remain content, resilient, and hopeful even in the midst of trials, losses and hardship.
~Lissette Cascante for Aural Awakenings, www.auralawakenings.com
December 13, 2021
Rick Sparks | Bella | Album Review by Janet Mawdesley, BlueWolf-Reviews.com (Australia) - 7/28/21
"The purity of the music that forms Bella is timeless... enchanting." - Janet Mawdesley
BELLA, by Rick Sparks (2021)
Review by Janet Mawdesley
Gentle and soothing this latest release from Rick Sparks portrays in delicate tones the emotions and pure beauty of the child, known as Bella at prayer on the cover of the album painted by 19th century artist Roberto Ferruzzi. Who she was is lost deep in history but the purity of her intent is timeless, as is the music that forms Bella.
Melodic and immensely peaceful the title song Bella introduces forty minutes of peace and tranquility with the gentle beauty of ‘vocals’ softly portraying an angelic ambience. The haunting beauty of the flute ushering in the lullaby Twilight Dreams, a rich and immensely soothing piece, perfect for allowing the mind and emotions to drift into timeless space.
Autumn Rain floats across the keyboard with a delicate precision that is also gentle, unobtrusive but carries the delicate emotion of peaceful rest, once again overlaid with the sound of angelic vocals.
Completely different, but still carrying that sense of slumber is the almost medieval sound of Highland Dreams. Pan flute leads in the piece, vocals once again filling in the background before the gentle wash of a more panoramic sound leads in the piano. Enchanting.
Two pieces that compliment are Going Home and Last Goodbye, both written to offer solace to those who have sadly had to say the last goodbye. Gentle, introspective, then light and floating the melody portrays the souls journey as it travels safely to another home.
Completing a beautiful work is the tribute to Bella, Her Prayer, with the purity of a child’s prayer captured in delicate melody which brings to memory the words of the traditional and beloved of many child’s prayer, ‘And now I lay me down to sleep’.
Words do not do justice to this softly emotional and gentle work which is absolutely perfect to simply take time out to listen, refresh, relax and replenish.
July 28, 2021
Rick Sparks | Bella | Album Review by Kathy Parsons, MainlyPiano.com - 6/16/21
"A graceful and stunningly beautiful album... one of Rick's best to date." - Kathy Parsons
BELLA, by Rick Sparks (2021)
Review by Kathy Parsons
Bella is the seventh album by pianist/composer/arranger/keyboardist Rick Sparks since 2014 and was inspired by a painting by 19th century Italian artist Roberto Ferruzzi of a little girl praying. No one but the artist knows the true identity of this little girl, but her portrait is the perfect expression of innocence, hope, trust and faith. "As a composer, these songs became an expression of Bella’s (and our) life: her dreams, prayers, joys, loves, challenges, hopes, goodbyes, yearning for home & a better world." The album features seven original pieces and three covers, all arranged to maximize their peaceful, soothing and healing effects. "The songs of Bella became an oasis of beauty & peace for me during 5 months of production - I hope this album will do the same for the listener." It certainly does that for me!
Rick Sparks' quiet piano-based music is heard worldwide on terrestrial and online radio stations. A Ph.D., Rick recently retired from his career as a broadcaster and teacher of mass communication. His 2020 album, Christmas Night, has been nominated as "Best Holiday Album Of the Year" by Zone Music Reporter.
Bella begins with the title song. "To my mind, there is nothing more beautiful than the heartfelt prayers of a child. This song captures the essence of what I experience every time I view Bella’s portrait." Slow, poignant and very peaceful, it instantly lets the listener know that this is a graceful and stunningly beautiful album.
The Celtic-flavored "Twilight Dreams" is a lullaby for Bella and "every child who finds solace and peace in slumber." Gentle bells suggest stars twinkling in a dark sky while flute, angelic voices and strings share a message of hope. Rick Sparks first heard "Smiling" in a television commercial for Omega watches! Composed by Harry Gregson-Williams, Rick arranged and recorded the piece for piano and strings.
"My Valentine" is a cover of Paul McCartney's 2012 single, a rainy-day love song arranged for piano, flute, keyboard and strings. "Autumn Rain" begins as a piano solo, adding strings and light choral voices along the way. The piano is a fantastic instrument for depicting rain and this one is very gentle and refreshing.
The pan flute on "Highland Road" magically transports us to the green highlands of Scotland. Piano and strings add tonal colors as well as their own magical qualities.
"Last Goodbye" reaches out to the huge number of people who said their "last goodbyes" to loved ones during the pandemic. "I used angelic voices to lend an ethereal, spiritual tone to the farewell." Piano, strings and organ also contribute to this deeply-affecting music.
The third cover piece, "Going Home," is a beautiful arrangement of the "Largo" movement of Anton(in) Dvorak's New World Symphony. Strings, piano and voices focus on the simple melody that communicates strong feelings of longing and loneliness. Considered to be one of the most beautiful melodies ever composed, Sparks' arrangement is simple and heartfelt.
"A New World" was composed as a companion piece to "Going Home": "heading for a new world that we so often dream of, a place of peace & love."
"Her Prayer" returns to the portrait of Bella for the final track of the album. The only piano solo, Sparks' expressive touch on the piano keys reflects the feelings of hope and sincerity found in that sweet little girl's face.
One of Rick Sparks' best albums to date, Bella is available from Amazon, Apple Music/iTunes and streaming sites like Spotify.
June 16, 2021
Rick Sparks | Bella | Album Review by Steve Sheppard, One World Music Radio - 6/9/21
"Musical magic... with each album, Sparks brings us calmness and serenity, and on Bella he adds innocence, charm and kindness." - Steve Sheppard
There is nothing I like to do more than sit and listen to the graceful poise and tone of a Rick Sparks album, and as such today I am a lucky man, I get to listen to and reveal my thoughts on Rick’s latest creation, Bella.
The opening piece is one of the most charming and ethereal offerings I have heard from Rick for a while, and of course I am referencing to the title track Bella. The art work reveals all here, and the child on the cover, glows of an innocence that is beautiful all on its own, and shows the honesty and unconditional love she has.
There is a decided Celtic motif to this next arrangement entitled Twilight Dreams that is really colourful and quite pretty. The mood of this track is so serene, one could easily drift off and into a blissful sleep whilst listening to it; this pristine performance by Sparks on keyboards is simply delightful.
The piano starts us off on another long road of ambience, and this time the song is entitled Smiling, the symphonic beauty here reminded me of a mixture of Kevin Kendle’s nature musings, and of course Sparks personal favourite Vaughn Williams in feeling and mood, here is a track that is so moving, it truly brought a tear to my eye.
My Valentine of course was released as a single earlier on this year, and was and is a beautiful addition to this album, the flute here makes a wonderful symbiotic resonance and is utterly transcendent.
The first few notes of Autumn Rain simply says it all, it is a time of the year when we all perhaps need to slow down and reflect. The gentle piano narrative allows me to visualise myself sitting by a window in early November, watching the seasons change and reflecting on the lessons of the past, learning from the actions taken, and then just floating with this mood filled opus of emotion and sincerity.
As we move into the second half of the album we come across what has now become my personal favourite Rick Sparks single of all time, and called Highland Road. Here is a Celtic melody that is so strong, fluent and colourful, it is an undeniable and a thoroughly picturesque portrait of instrumental music that you ever likely to hear in this genre.
The long hovering and floating musical narrative of Last Goodbye is now upon us, and here Sparks utilises his skill set of manifesting a composition and building upon its early constructions, and possibly into one of the finest symphonic creations on the album. A moving arrangement indeed, and redolent of some of the early new age styled tracks from many years hence, a sparkling heartfelt reminiscent opus indeed.
We have made it to the deeper realms of the album now and as we do so we come across a wonderful piece entitled Going Home, however many might also know it as Dvorak’s New World Symphony, what many will not know was that this piece was my original introduction to classical music, by my father many years ago, and it was the bridge to a better relationship with him too, thank you Rick Sparks for its inclusion, and what a glowing and emotive arrangement it was as well.
The following and penultimate offering is, and could be described as the extension of the previous composition, and called A New World. Here Sparks creates a companion to the aforementioned track, could this piece be the performance that at last reveals a new age in this new world, where the energies of love and kindness for ever nestle closer to each other, in a oneness of spirit, sounds like Sparks has nailed that for me.
I must admit leaving an album and wrapping things up nicely is a really hard thing to do, but here Sparks does it so beautifully by playing out with the final piece called Her Prayer. A soft piano takes us to our beds, and we can reflect upon our stunning musical journey with the genius that is Rick Sparks and his latest album Bella.
Bella by Rick Sparks is yet one more page of bliss in the vast catalogue of musical brilliance by one of the finest instrumental artists in the new age field today. With each album Sparks brings us calmness and serenity, and on Bella he adds innocence, charm and kindness to the menu as well, how could one not recommend an album of this elk, music like this is a panacea to cure all ills.
Get “Bella” here: https://ricksparks.hearnow.com/bella
Also available at Amazon Music, Apple Music/iTunes, Spotify & many other outlets.
Artist website: www.ricksparksmusic.net
Broadcast and Media Promotion: Sherry Finzer, Higher Level Media (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Rick Sparks | Bella | Album Review by Dyan Garris - 6/7/2021
New Age CD, New Age Notes, Zone Music Reporter (ZMR), Spirit Seeker Magazine, and Retailing Insight Magazine
"Like a gentle, angelic call for peace. . .the album feels very healing with an intriguing blend of wisdom, elegance and innocence." – Dyan Garris
Rick Sparks is known in the New Age genre for his melodic, piano based songs. Rick has also been an on-stage piano accompanist for many artists including Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. of The Fifth Dimension, gospel great Alvin Slaughter, and American Idol finalist, Phil Stacey.
What makes Rick’s music stand out in his own distinctive “New Age” style, as found on his new album, “Bella,” (June 2021), is his use of angelic choir; three-part vocal synth harmonies. Plus, added to that we have gorgeously cinematic synth string arrangements. With the addition of the flute, this makes “Bella” a lovely, soothing, angelic call for peace.
The inspiration for the album came from a 19th century portrait by Roberto Ferruzzi of a little girl praying (“Girl”). “Bella” is 10 tracks, 7 new originals plus 3 other songs: Sir Paul McCartney’s 2012, “My Valentine,” “Smiling,” from an Omega® watch TV commercial, and classical composer Antonin Dvorak’s poignant, “Going Home,” (sometimes “Goin’ Home), an adaptation of the second movement from his New World Symphony No. 9.
Antonin Dvorak began writing his Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,” not long after arriving in America in 1893, where he had come to be the director of the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York City. Apparently, he had a deep longing to return to Europe, and the melody/song expresses that sentiment. So, I love that Rick has also included a track, “A New World” toward the end of album. This is a very soothing and pretty piece, which I believe invites us into a collective energy of unity. Flute, soft bells, tender synth strings, and gentle angelic choir add to that ambiance.
Now, back to the beginning. The album opens with the title track, which sets a very soothing stage for all that follows, which is all in the same loving light. “Twilight Dreams” follows, which has a calming lullaby vibe. Flute and gentle piano gently embrace us and each other. Beautiful.
The string and other synth arrangements on “Smiling” and “My Valentine” are wonderful, and both are melodic and peaceful.
“Autumn Rain” is somewhat somber, with a gently repeating melody. This is contemplative and heart-stirring with its pretty strings and soft “oooh choir” giving it, again, that comforting angelic feeling found throughout the album.
The flute melody in “Highland Road” gives the piece a kind of Celtic feel. Piano scintillates and the angelic choir soothes the soul. Very calming.
Pretty and wistful, “Last Goodbye” is emotionally stirring. A bed of gently percolating percussion adds texture. As always, Rick has layered in just the right amount of strings. Piano, again, is gentle and moving.
The lovely “Bella” closes out with “Her Prayer.” Here is yet another one to love. This is so tranquil, so serene, we know it is coming directly from Rick’s heart, Bella’s heart, and the angelic heart, straight to ours. So very beautiful, all.
Rick says that his desire as an artist is “to create music that feeds the soul, inspires and uplifts the listener with beauty and peace.” Well, I should say, he heartily succeeds with every note. Peace be with us all.
Get “Bella” here: https://ricksparks.hearnow.com/bella
Also available at Amazon Music, Apple Music/iTunes, Spotify & many other outlets.
Artist website: www.ricksparksmusic.net
Broadcast and Media Promotion: Sherry Finzer, Higher Level Media (email@example.com)
Rick Sparks | Christmas Night | Review by Candice Michelle (Journeyscapes Radio) - 12/23/2020
"One of the most magical albums of the season!"
Rick Sparks is a pianist and composer whose recordings have been warmly received in neoclassical, new age and contemporary instrumental music circles. He also heads-up the long-running internet radio station The Cove on Live365 which has been a leader in the field for many years. Having begun piano lessons at age seven, Rick subsequently lent decades of service as a church pianist and earned a master’s degree in music. Influenced by iconic pianists such as George Winston and Jim Brickman, he eventually went on to release his debut album, Christmas Love, in 2007. Followed up by a handful of albums over the years, Rick recorded another Christmas album in 2020, which is his latest titled Christmas Night.
Comprised of ten compositions spanning approximately forty-three minutes, Christmas Night was partly inspired by the annual BBC broadcast of the King’s College Christmas Eve service in Cambridge, England. The ensuing result is one of the most magical albums of the season, with its synthesized arrangements of familiar carols and two originals prominently featuring celestial choirs, glistening bells and classical strings throughout.
One of my favorite pieces on the album is the opening title track, “Christmas Night”, which along with the closing piece, "Nativity", was composed by Rick. Delicately whimsical, it convey a wintry ballet feel that conjures images of falling snowflakes and the smell of evergreen trees. Also noteworthy is Rick’s uniquely varied rendition of “In the Bleak Midwinter”, which is led by a gentle piano melody accompanied by textural choral figures.
Not surprisingly, one of the album's most soothing compositions is the classic Christmas lullaby “Silent Night”, and if I didn’t know otherwise, I could have easily mistaken this rendition for fellow new age music artist Liquid Mind. Musically evocative of heavenly realms and radiant streams of light, an alternate piano variation comes in towards the end as the melody seemingly moves in a cinematically ascending pattern towards the sky.
Enthusiastically recommended to fans of both Christmas carols and peaceful synthesizer music, Christmas Night is a beautiful expression of Rick’s personal faith and musical talent, which is suitable not just for Christmastime but all winter long!
Rick Sparks | Christmas Night | Album Review by Dyan Garris - 11/5/2020
Christmas Night by Rick Sparks
Album Review by Dyan Garris for Zone Music Reporter (ZMR), New Age CD, and “Spirit Seeker Magazine”
“Christmas Night is a special, angelic, calming, rejuvenating, Christmas album that is a “must have” for this season and all those to come.”
“Christmas Night” is the 6th solo release for composer and pianist Rick Sparks. The instrumental album is 10 tracks and was partially inspired by the annual BBC broadcast of the King’s College Christmas Eve service held in Cambridge, England.
Most of the tracks on “Christmas Night” are from the 19th century and are perfect for Rick’s gorgeous neo-classical arrangements consisting of piano, strings, flute, bells, and angelic voices. There are 2 tracks on the album that are Rick’s original compositions.
“Christmas Night” opens with the title track, one of the originals by Rick. This instantly “says” Christmas with its soft, twinkly bells in the beginning of the piece. Sweet strings and angelic voices bring this all nicely together. This is a great composition, perfectly executed, and has a peaceful lullaby quality to it, which is very calming to the psyche.
The equally calming “Christ is Born” follows. The bells at the beginning are beautiful and soothing, as is the lovely angelic choir, giving this, and the entire album, actually, a truly heavenly quality. A Christmas favorite, “The First Noel” is gentle and soft, with the flute taking the lead melody in the beginning. The soft strings and piano arrangements are superb, with the angel voices adding an ethereal quality.
“Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” is another well-known seasonal favorite and this arrangement is completely wonderful in every way. The angelic choir voices have the melody in the beginning, bringing more comfort and solace to soothe the soul. Aptly, we can really feel and hear the angels singing here, and the song ends with an angelic acapella choir. Quite lovely!
With its flowing piano melody by Gustav Holst, beautifully played by Rick, “In the Bleak Midwinter” is a favorite on this album. Gentle strings and tender angelic voices complete the arrangement, which truly is exquisite.
“What Child is This?” may be familiar to many as the “Greensleeves” melody. Again, here, the arrangement is outstanding and a variation of the traditional melody at the end of the piece makes this very beautiful.
The melody for “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly,” dates back all the way to the 13th century. This is very much like a lullaby, with the addition of some original musical bridges by Rick. Another great arrangement here, with bells and angelic choir in the beginning, as well as sweet flute and more angel voices intertwined on the verses. Soft, gentle, sweet, and comforting.
As I mentioned earlier, the album “Christmas Night” was partly inspired by the King’s College Christmas Eve service. That service begins each year with the first verse from the carol, “Once in Royal David’s City,” which is sung acapella by a single boy’s voice. Here, Rick does the same, only with “angel voices.” Strings join in, and on the 3rd verse we have both angelic choir plus strings.
The quintessential carol, “Silent Night” is always peaceful and calming. Here, the flute takes the lead melody making this sweet as can be. Strings, tender piano, and the angelic choir elevate us and the song to the high heavens. Really nice.
The album closes out with the 2nd original composition by Rick on this album. “Nativity” is inspired by the music of English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams. Wonderfully written, composed, and played, strings and angel voices give a beautiful finish to this special album.
A note: When Rick asked if I would review this album, I told him I don’t review Christmas albums. It’s not that I’m a horrible Scrooge, but I am just not that “into” the season. He told me he thought I would really like this one and asked if I please give it a listen and reconsider. Well, I did so. And I don’t just like it. I love it. You will too. This album is a “must-have” for this season and beyond.
Listen and get it here: https://ricksparksmusic.hearnow.com/
Also available from Amazon Music, Apple iTunes, Spotify and many other outlets.
Artist website: www.ricksparksmusic.net
LAZZ Promotions (Ed & Stacey Bonk)
CHRISTMAS NIGHT REVIEW by BT Fasmer (New Age Music Guide) - 11/2/2020
When listening to Christmas carols, it is very easy to tell if the artist is genuine and “feeling it." There is little room for soulless performances and shortcuts when the audience already know and love the material. Other music genres tend to be more forgiving. This is one of the ingredients that makes Rick Sparks’ new album “Christmas Night” so special. It is inspired. You can tell that the instrumental carols are selected and performed with love. “Christmas Night” also contains two originals that bind the album together, making it into a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Rick Sparks began music lessons at age seven and got an early taste of public performance when he began playing piano in church as a teenager. A visit to an antique store in 2007 set a new musical direction for him when he heard a solo piano album playing in the background. This experience made him want to record New Age music. Sparks has so far released six albums: “Endless” (2014), “Matilda’s Flowers” (2016), “Nightfall London” (2017), “Half Moon Bay” (2018), “Hushabye” (2019) and “Christmas Night” (2020). In addition, Rick released the compilation album, “Dreams of Peace”, in 2019, a collection of his best songs. Rick Sparks is also the man behind the very popular Live365.com channel The Cove.
Regarding “Christmas Night”, Sparks says: “The album was inspired, in part, by a wonderful holiday tradition: the annual BBC broadcast of the King’s College Christmas Eve service in Cambridge, England. Each year, millions around the world listen as the service begins with a choir boy’s single voice singing “Once in Royal David’s City.” That 19th-century carol perfectly sets the tone for the entire service, strikingly beautiful in its simplicity and reverence.”
Christmas Night - The Songs
“Christmas Night” starts with the title track, which is an original. Gentle as falling snow, the theme instantly conjures the Christmas spirit in us. The bell-like synth and strings are soon joined by heavenly singers who transforms this snowy night into something divine. It is beautiful beyond words, totally unpretentious and honest. “Christmas Night” is, in short, a wonderful composition. Bravo!
“Christ is Born”, which we know from The Carpenters’ 1978 album “Christmas Portrait”, starts with church bells and choir. I love the deep synth pads and the gentle lead instrument. The piece is filled with classical inspiration, and of course the memory of Perry Como’s vocal – who discovered and made this song famous in the 1960s (it was originally written in Latin by Domenico Bartolucci). Strangely enough, the piece feels complete – even without Como.
The First Noel
“The First Noel” is one of the most beautiful Christmas carols ever written. Sparks’ version shows his ability to use strings to perfection, making the choir sounds divine. I like the sharp sounding bells and the tender sounding flute, making it easy to envision how “The wise men learnt its cause of stay, And found the place where Jesus lay.” Wonderful, just wonderful.
“The First Noel” fades into “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, which is always a terrific “bridge”. The angel choir is arranged with love and skill. The acapella ending is superb.
In the Bleak Midwinter
One of the finest pieces on the album is “In the Bleak Midwinter”. Gustav Holst’s classical melody goes straight to the heart, many thanks to Sparks’ arrangement with piano, strings and angelic voices. It is breathtakingly beautiful. I like how the piece develops, from the lonely piano in the intro to the full arrangement in the end, creating a warm and loving Christmas atmosphere.
Sparks’ take on “What Child Is This”, including a new bridge of descending chords with strings and voices, is elegant, playful, and pristine. The analog synth keys are great, backed by Sparks string magic. The same can be said about “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly”, a traditional Polish carol – which also has one of Sparks’ creative and well-made bridges.
Once in Royal David’s City
As mentioned above, “Christmas Night” is inspired by King’s College Christmas Eve service. I’m extremely impressed by the vocal arrangement; It is not easy making it sound as good as this. Usually, vocal synths are used for backing – but here they carry the whole song, like a real choir. “Silent Night” proves this once more; you can almost “hear” the lyrics, it is that good! The flute section too is magnificent.
The album-closing “Nativity”, the second original piece, both defines and rounds off “Christmas Night” in a glorious way. It is, according to Sparks, inspired by the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. Given the selection of eternal Christmas music on the album, one should think that “Nativity” would sound more like an original – a bit out of place and less like a classic – but it is really on par with many of the carols here. That is a major accomplishment.
In conclusion: Rick Sparks has delivered a superb Holiday album! “Christmas Night” is close to a perfect release, many thanks to the way the two original carols bind the album together. I’m also amazed by how a synth album can communicate the atmosphere of the King’s College Christmas Eve service, which usually requires hundreds of singers and musicians, plus the enormity of the King’s College Cambridge chapel. Just like the famous service, “Christmas Night” offers a rich and rewarding listening experience. It is a gift to the world.
For more information and music samples, visit https://ricksparksmusic.hearnow.com/
“(I was honored to have Dreams of Peace chosen by Kathy Parsons as a "Kathy's Pick" album at MainlyPiano.com!) Dreams of Peace: The Very Best of Rick Sparks Rick Sparks 2019 / Rick Sparks Music 61 minutes Review by Kathy Parsons Dreams of Peace: The Very Best of Rick Sparks is one of the most relaxing and soothing albums you are likely to hear anytime soon! It is a collection of fourteen of Sparks’ most peaceful pieces from his five “quiet-music” albums released since 2014 (all five are reviewed on MainlyPiano.com!). Sparks’ music is often heard on “Sleep Radio” in New Zealand, which should be a helpful point of reference. With the motto of “Music to replenish your spirit,” Sparks has created a body of work that is more melodic than ambient, but still has that easy flow and beauty that uplifts the soul and provides a respite from some of the harsh realities of life around us - at least temporarily. In addition to original compositions and occasional covers, Sparks often includes familiar hymns on his albums, as he does on this one. “Brian [Wilson] always said that God gave him his songs - I feel the same about my music. My ultimate goal is to glorify Jesus Christ in everything I do. He's a big part of my music helping to 'replenish your spirit.'" Dr. Rick Sparks (Ph.D.) also serves as professor of mass communication at North Greenville University South Carolina and plays keyboards in his church worship band near Spartanburg, SC. The album begins with Sparks’ beautiful arrangement of Sting’s “Fields of Gold,” one of my favorite pop songs. Performed on keyboards, the instrumentation includes flutes, strings and vibes as well as the sounds of rain and thunder. I have heard a lot of great arrangements of this classic, but this is one of the most peaceful. “Little Flower” is serene and soothing with piano, strings, wordless vocals - profound in its simplicity. “No Greater Love” was one of my favorites on Hushabye from earlier this year, and it’s a favorite on this album as well. “Sand and Stars,” for piano, wordless vocals, strings and guitar, could be the musical definition of “peaceful” - so smooth and tranquil. “And She Dreams” is almost magical with its slow, simple piano melody, angelic voices and strings. “Be Still, My Soul” seems to be one of the favorite hymns among pianists and this is one of a few piano solos on the album - simple, direct and sincere, it’s a lovely arrangement. The title track also comes from Hushabye with shimmering flutes and ethereal strings providing an extended intro before the piano enters with the melody - both dreamy and peaceful! “Tokyo Rain” has a very quiet Japanese sound and is another piano solo - gentleness set to music! “Memories of Her” reminds me a bit of Kevin Kern - always a compliment! - with piano and strings and an unforgettable melody. Sparks’ instrumental arrangement of the traditional “Auld Lang Syne” brings the album to a sweet and sentimental close. If you are new to Rick Sparks’ music or if you’d like a compilation of his best music, Dreams of Peace: The Very Best of Rick Sparks is a must-have! It is available from RickSparksMusic.net, Amazon, iTunes, CD Baby and many streaming sites. December 3, 2019 ” - Kathy Parsons
“DREAMS OF PEACE: THE VERY BEST OF RICK SPARKS REVIEW BY STEVE SHEPPARD, ONE WORLD MUSIC RADIO Rick Sparks has pulled off something of a master stroke here on this his greatest hits album Dreams of Peace; it’s a release perfect for the holiday season and for any time of year, it is jam packed with loving and warm compositions from his albums over the years. Each piece has been throughout time lovingly put together, and with such a thoughtful mind and heart, like this new version of Sting's Fields of Gold, a piece I know very well, as it was part of my singing course a few years back. Here the keyboards of Sparks create one of the mellowest moods you are ever likely to hear in a recreation of this ballad. With offerings like Little Flower the keys are stroked with a tenderness that is sublime, and come from his last soothing collection of great music Hushabye, then onto Dream Angus, a composition that originally takes us back to 2014 and his album Endless, and as if you may have guessed by the title, it has a sumptuous Celtic refrain to its energies. The exciting but mellow First Love, through to the more recent No Greater Love, both contain such an emotive signature to them and hold a sensitive angelic repose with ease. For our next offering we return to Half Moon Bay with the piece Sand and Stars, an album of outstanding natural beauty, the perfect track, for the perfect album, one which floats with a translucent beauty into the arms of this next pleasurable sojourn in music called And She Dreams. There can be no doubt, that by the time you reach here, your mood will be totally chilled. The second half of this 14 track collection of greatest hits gives us offerings like Be Still My Soul, the last track off the 2014 album Endless, and the inspiring Dreams of Peace, from the last album Hushabye, both tracks are bathed in the perceptive and delicate time signatures of classic new age music from the decades. Tokyo Rain is one of those tracks you just can’t stop listening to, it’s eastern styled melody and tones make a wonderful juxtaposition to the following composition entitled In the Bleak Midwinter, this connection of moods gives us our first Christmas classic as well, and in my view, one of the most relaxing versions I have ever heard. We can drift back to Sparks quite moving release from 2016 called Matilda’s Flowers, through this next song called Memories of Her, a personal favourite of mine, it’s warm structures and keyboards manifest a song that should be used in a movie romance scene. Our last two magical compositions comprise of When the Stars Come Out, a track to ease the soul and soothe the mind, and our final opus of grandeur in the ever young Auld Lang Syne, a piece of music that is usually the very last one to be played at the end of each year; the performance on this arrangement is as it should be, uplifting and thoroughly connective. Rick Sparks has done it again, it’s the end of the year, but he has graced the musical airwaves with something so beautiful and tranquil it’s the perfect Christmas gift. Sparks is one of those artists who will always manifest something special, warm and all-encompassing, and an album that contains such tender loving warm compositions on it like this, must always be completely recommended. ” - Steve Sheppard
“Hushabye by Rick Sparks (Self-released) www.ricksparksmusic.net On the cover, keyboardist/pianist Sparks' latest release is subtitled "Sail away to dreamland," and he's not kidding. These 11 tracks, centered round serene, minimalist piano melodies, framed by orchestral strings and angelic choirs, will almost certainly guide the most irrepressible and rambunctious young 'uns to the land of Wynken, Blynken and Nod. Soothing in the extreme, with nary a moment of drama to distract from the flowing sensation of peace and contentment, these melodies could also serve well as massage music for us "old-timers" or as a way to help the parents of the aforementioned children to relax and de-stress after a busy day. Low volume playback is advisable, of course. ” - Bill Binkelman
“Hushabye (2019) - Rick Sparks Review by Steve Sheppard (online review & albums features HERE) Rick Sparks has sealed an everlasting legacy as a musician who can soothe and calm his listeners with the first few bars of any song he has recorded, his crafted approach is a gift that many just hope to find, and it is this genius we discover on this his latest release called Hushabye. At many times in our lives, we will require places of peace, moments of solitude and sanctuaries of the soul, this album can create all three, simply put meditative relaxing music has never been in such safe hands. "This is a beautiful moving album, filled full of tones that touch with ease the hem of the neo classical genre, and moments of magic like the tracks Love Can Make You Happy and Dreams of Peace, are but two fine examples of this soothing narrative of calm. "The softness and tender performance that Sparks gives is a delight to listen to on its own, especially on one of my favourite tracks entitled When The Stars Came Out, the angelic harmonies and flute just add a further layer of tranquillity to the proceedings. Then we can then simply float on offerings like the soft and serene tones of And She Dreams, and be completely lulled to a faraway land with the composition We Are Loved, the track that ends this stunning album. "Hushabye is an album that children will adore falling asleep to, it is a release that anyone of any age at all, would love to just have playing around them, for it is from these very peaceful arrangements that each of us will find those moments of calming grace and perhaps even a sojourn into a world of restful slumber. Hushabye is another loving creation manifested by Rick Sparks, it is the musical equivalent of having a loved one put an arm around you and tell you everything is going to be alright, an absolute meditative must for all serious music lovers.” - Steve Sheppard
“(Special thanks to Kathy Parsons for making Hushabye a "Kathy's Pick" album on MainlyPiano.com!) Hushabye Rick Sparks 2019 / Rick Sparks Music 43 minutes Review by Kathy Parsons Hushabye is the sixth album from pianist/composer/keyboardist Rick Sparks. Widely-known for his peaceful, melodic music that often layers strings and ethereal voices over the piano, Sparks created this album specifically to help listeners with relaxation, meditation and sleep. He explains: “I wanted to record an album of soothing music that both adults and children could relax with. I wanted the songs on this album to feel like a favorite soft pillow.” In this case, I have to assume that referring to this album as “a real snooze” would actually be very positive - and it is intended to be! Subtitled “Sail away to dreamland,” this gorgeous album contains nine new original tracks and two covers: Sparks’ instrumental arrangement of the 1969 pop hit, “Love Can Make You Happy” and the classic children’s hymn “Jesus Loves Me.” I really wish this album had been around when I was having problems sleeping a few years ago, but I know what I’m getting for several friends for Christmas! I really can’t imagine a more pleasant way to induce sleep or for easing away the stresses of a hectic day. Hushabye begins with a short prelude called “My Soul To Keep,” which was inspired by the prayer so many of us recited as children. Performed a cappella by angelic choir voices, it’s a beautiful start! “Love Can Make You Happy” was originally recorded by the group Mercy, and Sparks’ blissful arrangement is a bit slower and features, piano, strings and wordless vocals. The title for “Dreams of Peace” could refer to dreaming of peace or peaceful dreams, and it really doesn’t matter which way you interpret it - just sit back and enjoy the soothing massage for the mind and soul. The gentle and very delicate “Little Flower” is piano, strings and wordless vocals and has a somewhat Asian feel. Very open and uncluttered, the simple melody is hypnotic. “No Greater Love” refers to Jesus’ teaching and shimmers with a peaceful, magical glow - I love this one! “When the Stars Come Out” adds flute to the mix of voices, piano and strings and casts a rapturous spell. “Jesus Loves Me” is the first hymn many of us learned as kids and the warm reassurance of eternal love flows from each note. More ambient than most of the rest of the album, “Cloud Pillow” floats effortlessly on a gentle breeze of sound. “And She Dreams” is also quite ambient (and VERY peaceful!), but the “angel voices” make it a bit more melodic while expressing innocence and tranquility. Inspired by the music of English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, “Angel Song” returns to the a cappella choir’s vocalizations (no lyrics). “We Are Loved” closes the album with “a great sentiment that I hope fills both our dreams and our waking hours” (quoting Rick Sparks). If you haven’t melted into a happy puddle yet, just hit the “replay” button and drift off to a very happy Dreamland! Rick Sparks has created another wonderful album with Hushabye! It is available from Amazon, iTunes, CD Baby, and many streaming sites. July 23, 2019 ” - Kathy Parsons
“(Following is Steve Sheppard's review of our 2018 end-of-year single, Auld Lang Syne. Steve is the programmer for Europe's largest online radio station, One World Music Radio.) REVIEW OF RICK SPARKS' AULD LANG SYNE "I had been listening to some extremely chilled classical music whilst reading my book over this festive period, when suddenly the opportunity came up to write a review for Rick Spark’s latest single, his version of the classic Auld Lang Syne. Quite appropriately for this time of year. I was still in a place of bliss thanks to his Half Moon Bay album and here we have more of the same beauty in music, the same wonderful floating and angelic narrative is given to this endless piece of peace. Sparks has really done this famous opus justice and created for us probably the most uplifting and soulful version ever of this composition. The style is a real mixture of classical, new age and a little Celtic, all masterfully arranged and gifted to us the ever eager listener. If you would really like a warm and loving version of this song, then without a doubt I can recommend this version by Rick Sparks. It’s guaranteed to bring a smile to your face and a hug to your heart, and of course simply the best musical way to end the year." -Steve Sheppard, One World Music Radio. ” - Steve Sheppard
“Half Moon Bay REVIEW BY JANET MAWDESLEY OCTOBER 8, 2018, 12:50 PM Dreamy and refreshing, this peaceful collection Half Moon Bay from the piano of Rick Sparks is an absolute delight, inspired by his love of the ocean and the love and enjoyment of the peace, relaxation and beauty there to be found and enjoyed. A lover of the Beach Boys music of the ‘60s and their brilliance at being able to capture the very essence of the beat, the vibe and the spiritual nature of the ocean, Sparks has used the legacy Brian Wilson created and his love of the ocean as inspiration. The track Half Moon Bay composed by Brian Wilson is a slightly softer version of the original but has that unmistakable finger picking style of acoustic guitar added to the piano melody to tweak the memory. This tribute is shown throughout the album with the Lonely Sea a slow, moody rendition introduced with the sound of surf breaking and Summers Gone, an iconic Beach Boys tracks, offered with a gentle reverence to create an ethereal and introspective piece. Penned as Wilson looks back over the halcyon days of his life, accepting that summer and indeed gone and the days of peace and acceptance are a beautiful reward, Summers Gone was the last song on their final album recorded in 2012. First Light is introduced as synthesiser song, solemn and peaceful, it has been written in tribute to the morning rays of the sun slowly climbing over the horizon to grace the ocean with it glorious colour just for that one, perfect moment in time. The refreshing and often longed for fresh summer sea breeze on a day of intense heat, has been captured in Whisper in the Wind, an evocative piece with a lovely addition of flute and vocals. Sunset Dreams is as it is titled, a tribute to the slow and often spectacular drawing on of the day by the ocean regardless of the time of year. Following on from his last release (Nightfall London), this album has the same trademark magic created by Rick Sparks as he pays tribute to the ocean and the peace and tranquility that can be discovered there. Once again, an inspired and talented album. ” - Janet Mawdesley
“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 Bay. A 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.” (Read Robert Silverstein's 2018 interview w. Rick at www.mwe3.com/reviews/RickSparks2018) ” - Robert Silverstein
“(Half Moon Bay is a "Kathy's Pick" album by Kathy Parsons of MainlyPiano.com - "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” - Kathy Parsons