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July 2024
Vol. 23, No. 10

CD Reviews

DON SPARKS & DAN BONIS: Ready for the Radio

by Wayne RikerFebruary 2024

Ready for the Radio, a ten-track release of all original tunes from singer-songwriter-guitarist Don Sparks, certainly has a few track candidates for radio airplay. The album was recorded live in one afternoon at Snoring Dog Studio in Cold Spring, New York, produced, engineered, and mixed by Rick Gedney. Accompanying Sparks’ lush guitar chording and nifty fingerpicking backdrop is Dan Bonis, whose musical footprint is omnipresent throughout on mandolin, dobro, and lap steel guitar.

Sparks’ songs take you on an eclectic lyrical and vocal journey, with well-crafted novelty tunes, upbeat rockers, and tender ballads that may remind you of some of the best, from Gordon Lightfoot to David Gates and from Arlo Guthrie to Kenny Rankin.

The opening track, “John Roy Tall,” sets a clever theme right out of the gate. “John Roy Tall, John Roy Lean, John Roy Tall fell in the cotton machine,” ultimately to become a cotton sweater. The cry-in-your-beer “Friends Are Coming Today” is beautifully accompanied by the dulcet tones of Bonis on pedal steel guitar. “Friends these days have been in short supply, this move from the coast has left your host high and dry.”

The upbeat and cheery “Stay It Twice” says just what it means as Sparks is true to his title. “Been under a starry sky, starry sky…I’ve seen the corn grow high, corn grow high.” The ballad “Wish I Were Here” is colored nicely by the lamenting lyrics throughout. “Yesterday’s sorrow has been around too long, I’m losing ground little by little.”

The haunting minor key “Trouble & Joy” is highlighted by Bonis’ weeping and wailing Dobro phrases weaving in and out around Sparks’ lyrics. “Trouble and Joy, trouble and joy, they’re coming for me and you.” “Good Little Boys” takes us back to those nostalgic memories of the 1950s, embellished by Bonis’ glistening steel guitar tones. “I wore my PF Flyers to the Piggly Wiggly store…I grabbed a Baby Ruth and ran out the door.”

The pop-flavored track, “I’ll Know You,” could be the one ready for radio play behind Sparks’ velvety vocal and airy guitar chord voicings. “We both looking at the same blue moon, we both praying that day breaks soon.”

Bonis’ mandolin supports “Out Beyond the Breakers” against Sparks’ muse: “she swims by herself…on a wave that she could only ride,” followed by a full diet of mandolin flurries on “Adios New York.” “Give my best to our lady of the harbor…tell her please don’t carry a torch for me.”

The album concludes with Sparks accompanying himself solo with a lush chordal progression of ‘fat chords’ beautifully played in smoky jazz bar fashion against his words: “paint me a picture of a big air-o-plane, me sitting up in first class on my second champagne.” Speaking of first class, this collection of Sparks’ ten original tunes is nothing short of that, a mesmerizing and entertaining listen throughout!


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