According to new-age keyboardist Rick 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. For me, Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys were the absolute best at capturing that summertime beach magic. I used the ocean and Brian’s great musical legacy as the inspiration for my new-age instrumental album, Half Moon Bay. My hope is it will transport the listener to a place of peace which I always find walking along a beautiful beach with the sounds of the surf.”
Half Moon Bay is Sparks’ fifth album and contains seven new original tunes along with his instrumental arrangements of three Brian Wilson compositions. The music features the hallmarks of Sparks’ sound — exquisite piano and stunning string arrangements. These are augmented with soft angelic voices doing wordless vocalizations, plus solo string instruments (violin, cello), electric and acoustic guitars, flute, bells and other sounds.
Sparks calls his recordings “music to replenish your spirit” aimed at fans of new-age and neo-classical music. Piano is most-often the featured instrument, but Sparks is an adept arranger who uses synthesizer to give his music layers, textures, colors and additional depth.
More information on Rick Sparks is available at his website (RickSparksMusic.net). His CDs — Half Moon Bay, Nightfall London, Matilda’s Flowers, Endless and Christmas Love — and digital download tracks from those recordings are available online from CDbaby, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, eMusic and many other outlets. Since 2014, Rick’s recordings have received strong airplay on hundreds of radio stations and channels around the world (including SiriusXM). Both Endless (2014) and Nightfall London (2017) rose to #7 on the prestigious international Zone Music Reporter Top 100 Chart that specifically monitors new-age music. While Half Moon Bay pays homage to the beach, the ocean and the music of Brian Wilson, Sparks’ last album, Nightfall London, did a similar honor to England and Beatles’ producer George Martin.
Rick Sparks’ musical influences have been many and diverse: coming from a musical family, getting his B.A. degree in broadcasting from the University of Tennessee, being an FM-radio DJ in the 1970s and 1980s, earning Masters degrees in music and communication and a Ph.D. in communication, programming a leading new-age music station (The Cove) on Live365.com, and having a college teaching career. His taste in music also has been varied and includes pop music, jazz and new age. Rick’s musical career has included accompanying on-stage legendary artists such as The 5th Dimension’s Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr., gospel great Alvin Slaughter of Brooklyn Tabernacle, and American Idol finalist Phil Stacey.
Now with the album Half Moon Bay, Sparks evokes the peace and replenishment received from his time on the South Carolina coast over the years. “I went to college in Charleston for a couple of years, where I fell in love with the whole culture of the beach and the coast. My wife and I honeymooned in Charleston many years ago, and we love getting back there as often as we can. For me, the ocean is a place to restore my spirit. I wanted to offer that to the listeners with the music on Half Moon Bay.”
The opening tune on Half Moon Bay is “Sand and Stars,” prompted “by the romantic vision of two people walking hand in hand on a white sandy beach under a moonlit sky,” says Sparks. Following that is the album’s title song, Brian Wilson’s “Half Moon Bay,” which Sparks says is “a lovely paean to the inner peace Brian finally found in the latter part of his life.” This song appeared on Wilson’s No Pier Pressure album in 2015. That album title refers to the pressure Brian was under as composer and producer for The Beach Boys in the Sixties. According to Sparks, “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. My arrangement is similar to Brian’s original, but a little calmer. I used a flute for the melody, and wordless vocals for emotional impact. When No Pier Pressure came out, Brian referred to his use of three-voice harmony as ‘angel voices.’ I love that sound and triple the voice harmony in my songs as well. There’s something very powerful and emotional about human voices in harmony.”
A fingerstyle acoustic guitar is heard throughout “Sunlight In Her Hair,” the title a tribute to a line in The Beach Boys’ iconic “Good Vibrations.” The song was inspired by the imagery of a girl’s hair in the wind as it catches the warm rays of the sun. The album’s only solo piano piece is “You’re So Nice” and it captures the innocence and sweetness of first love. Sparks’ composition “Ocean Blue” (the title is a tip of the hat to Dennis Wilson’s 1977 Pacific Ocean Blue album) is framed by the sound of an electric guitar and written to “evoke the grandeur, mystery and beauty of the sea.” “First Light,” the quietest piece on the album, was inspired by the peace and solitude of an early-morning sunrise over the ocean.
Another Brian Wilson song covered by Sparks is “Lonely Sea,” recorded by The Beach Boys at the very beginning of their career in 1962. According to Sparks, “I’ve always loved the angst Brian expressed in that song, comparing lost love to the sea. I’ve tried to capture that mood with slow electric guitar, a flute melody and the sound of ocean surf at the beginning and end.” Sparks’ “Whisper In The Wind” is a nod to “the restorative power of a summer sea breeze.” “Sunset Dreams” was prompted by a spectacular sunset “as a symbol for winding down the day and the presence of peace as you head towards night.” The album ends with Rick’s version of Brian Wilson’s “Summer’s Gone,” the last song on the Beach Boys’ final album, 2012’s That’s Why God Made the Radio. “It’s Brian’s musical look back at his life from the finality that all things must pass,” Rick says. “He yearns for the warmth of the sun and his golden past, but it also captures the peace that Brian found in his later life.”
In looking back on his own life, Sparks says, “I was raised in east Tennessee in the shadow of the Smoky Mountains, where generations of my family grew up. My grandfather played banjo clawhammer-style, my dad sang and played the guitar, and my mom also sang and played the piano and organ. I started pretty early with piano lessons at age seven. I got an early education at church in the spiritual power of music and eventually became a church pianist myself. I grew up with early gospel music influences, combined with Top-40 radio songs and then FM pop-rock when I was a young DJ and radio program director. During those years I loved to play Beach Boys, Beatles and Chicago songs on the piano. Later, I discovered smooth jazz and then new-age artists like George Winston and Jim Brickman.”
According to Sparks, “My utmost desire as an artist is to create music that feeds the soul, that inspires and uplifts. I totally embrace the power of music to fill our lives with beauty.”