Pianist and composer Rick Sparks is well-known to fans of new-age and neo-classical music for his trademark peaceful, melodic songs featuring piano layered with stunning string arrangements, augmented with soft angelic voices doing wordless vocalizations. This combination is perfect for his latest album, Hushabye, created specifically to help listeners with relaxation, meditation and sleep.
“Many of my friends and fans have told me for years that they use my music to relax after a hard day, enjoy some down time or to help their children or themselves get to sleep,” explains Sparks. “With that in mind, I wanted to record an album of soothing music that both adults and children could relax to. I wanted the songs on this album to feel like a favorite soft pillow.”
The wordless vocals on Hushabye were prompted in part by Rick’s love of Brian Wilson’s vocal arrangements with the Beach Boys. According to Rick, “Brian always said he used three-part vocal harmonies because to his ear it sounded like angels. I took that to heart by using angelic-sounding wordless voices singing multi-part harmonies. The voices on Hushabye also remind me of the pure tones of an English boys’ choir.”
Hushabye, subtitled “Sail Away to Dreamland,” is Sparks’ sixth album and contains nine new original tunes, along with his instrumental arrangements of the million-selling pop hit “Love Can Make You Happy” by the 1960s group Mercy, as well as the classic children’s song “Jesus Loves Me.” In addition to piano, strings and voices, the music also includes the sounds of a flute. Piano is Sparks’ featured instrument, but he 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 dot net). His CDs -- Hushabye, Half Moon Bay, Nightfall London, Matilda’s Flowers, Endless and Christmas Love -- and digital download or streamable 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’s Spa channel. Half Moon Bay (2018) went to #4 and 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. Half Moon Bay paid homage to the ocean and the music of Brian Wilson, while Nightfall London did a similar honor to England and legendary producer George Martin.
The first music on the Hushabye album is “My Soul to Keep” (the title is taken from the child’s bedtime prayer: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep”). Rick says, “I love Brian Wilson’s choice to begin his Smile album with a lovely acapella prayer, so I decided to use a similar brief angelic prayer on this album to begin the listener’s journey to dreamland.
“Love Can Make You Happy” follows. According to Rick, “This is a favorite song of mine from 1969, the year of Woodstock and ‘three days of peace and music.’ We need love and peace just as much today.” Several of the other song titles on the album follow the themes of love and peace. “My song ‘Dreams of Peace’ could be taken either as dreaming of peace or as peaceful dreams. ‘Little Flower,’ with its Oriental flavor, was inspired by the title song from the 1967 film ‘You Only Live Twice.’ The title ‘No Greater Love’ came from Jesus’ teaching in John 15:13 -- ‘There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’.”
“When the Stars Come Out,” which includes flute, is “another slumber song.” The song “Jesus Loves Me” is “the first hymn many of us learned as children, voicing a simple but profound truth.” A longtime pilot, Sparks loves flying, “especially when you find yourself among billowy white clouds. It’s an otherworldly beauty, the realm of angels, thus the title ‘Cloud Pillow’ with its angel-voice harmonies.”
The song “And She Dreams” was directly inspired by the CD back-cover photograph of a little girl peacefully sleeping. Rick says, “For all the little ones, sleeping and dreaming should be a time of peace, safety and love.” Another inspiration when writing the acapella voice hymn “Angel Song,” was the music of English composer Vaughan Williams. Finally, Rick says that he “closed the album with ‘We Are Loved’ because it was a nice assurance to know that we are all loved, both by God and those around us. It’s a great sentiment that I hope fills both our dreams and our waking hours.”
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 on-line new-age music station (The Cove), having a college teaching career and serving as a pianist at church. His tastes in music are 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.
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.”
Testing his music on friends, Sparks says, “The consensus is that my music is very relaxing, ideal to leave on while you’re sleeping. A friend of ours plays it throughout the night for his six-month-old son and it works great! Another friend who is 94-years-old often uses my music to help get to sleep. I’m hopeful that the music on Hushabye will not only be enjoyable to listen to while you’re awake, but can serve as a great soundtrack to your dreams as well.”
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