Michael Bolton was not wanting for creative sparks making his first ever album of all original songs.
The Grammy Award winner and Emmy Award nominee was immersed in a number of conceptual music projects as well as an entirely new facet of his career as a comedic actor. His place in the fabric of popular culture was famously celebrated by the comic troupe The Lonely Island and their “Jack Sparrow,” music video which debuted on Saturday Night Live and has since amassed nearly a quarter billion YouTube views. From that cultural moment forward, Bolton started showing up everywhere – from cameos in primetime comedies like TWO AND A HALF MEN and FRESH OFF THE Boat to dozens of major commercial campaigns ranging from Starburst and Honda to Pizza Hut and Walmart. He even brought back the classic DATING GAME for ABC with co-host Zoeey Deschanel, guest celebrities and a musical twist. There was plenty going on, in other words, but there was never any doubt Bolton would have another batch of galvanizing new music to present as a triple-threat performer, writer and producer.
SPARK OF LIGHT is it. The 10-song set is buoyant and positive-minded, grounded in classic songcraft and elevated by contemporary sonics and sensibilities reflecting Bolton’s collaborations with a cadre of cutting-edge young creatives. “Really, SPARK OF LIGHT is everything it comes in contact with — positive energy, hopefulness, happiness,” Bolton explains. “It’s kind of a wide array of events that brought all these different characters and elements together.”
Being open to creative change is a hallmark of Bolton’s career, of course, and has served him well during the past 50 years. The Connecticut native (and resident) has sold more than 65 million records worldwide, with six multi-platinum albums and eight No. 1 hits on the Billboard Adult Contemporary songs chart. In addition to his own recordings Bolton’s songs have been recorded by Barbra Streisand, Cher, KISS and Kenny Rogers, among others. He’s co-written with Bob Dylan and has been sampled by Jay-Z and Kanye West. BMI and ASCAP have recognized Bolton’s achievements with more than 24 awards, including a place in the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. He’s also been honored by the Congress of Racial Equality, the National Child Labor Committee, the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations and others for his commitment to social justice, evidenced as well in the 30 year advocacy for women and children at risk through his Michael Bolton Charities.
He’s undeniably in the ranks of those we consider superstars, but Bolton has less interest in laurels than in the continuing quest for what’s next. “I know there’s always something new to be explored,” he says. “If it feels like something I haven’t done before, I’m all in.”
That’s certainly the case with SPARK OF LIGHT, an album that’s very much a product of the several years in which it was created. “We had this pandemic that kind of interrupted our lives,” Bolton says, and while in lockdown he began exploring new music and investigating those who were making it. That led him to that cast of “characters” he previously mentioned, contemporary new forces such Australia’s Tushar Apte (BTS, Blackpink, Demi Lovato), Morgan Taylor Reid (Backstreet Boys, Shane Harper, Plug In Stereo), American Authors’ frontman Zachary Barnett, Walk the Moon’s Nicholas Petricca, Jared Lee (Jason Derulo, Louis the Child, Markus Schulz), Grammy Award winner Jonas Myrin (Matt Redman, Tomlin, Streisand and Bocelli) and Robert Marvin (Adam Lambert, Matt Kearney, TobyMac, Tove Lo). Another current talent, Justin Jesso, had randomly introduced himself in a restaurant to Bolton as a fan, and then a Kygo hit and a decade later the two found themselves collaborating on the single “Beautiful World” that’s featured on the new album.
“The pandemic actually wound up inspiring me to work,” Bolton explains, “and I found in connection with other songwriters and producers and artists that we were all chomping at the bit to get back to work, ’cause we love what we do. It was a very exciting experience, even if we were doing it by Zoom or whatever until we could all be together again. It always comes back to what the strengths are that somebody brings to the table, and you find that out when you’re in the studio. It’s just as exciting as it’s ever been to collaborate and bring these songs to life.”
The process, for Bolton, resulted in “some of the greatest songs I’ve ever been involved in writing and working on.” In fact, this is the first ever album of all original music co-written by Bolton. the artist. That starts at the beginning with SPARK OF LIGHT’s title track, co-written and produced by Apte and Petricca. With its smooth vibe and anthemic chorus, it sets a tone that spreads throughout the rest of the album. “We all got on this theme of spark of light as being a real super bright point in our lives and in the world,” Bolton recalls, “and it started other conversations about how important keeping that light alive is in all the aspects of our living and the world, as fragile as it is. The level of positive energy that came around “Spark of Light” was very high and very exciting, and I was looking forward to getting back to the next session and picking up wherever we left off. We wound up working a lot of late nights together.”
That outlook continues on “Beautiful World” with Jesso, whose title indicates exactly what the song is about and is, Bolton says, “one of my favorite songs I’ve ever recorded and written.” “Just the Beginning,” meanwhile, felt “very fresh” for Bolton as he, Reid and Barnett were creating it. “It was something positive and I really enjoyed singing it,” Bolton remembers. “The next thing I knew it wasn’t just making the record, but it was the favorite song for a lot of people around me, which was a sign we had something pretty special.”
Bolton also feels the same way about “Whatever She Wants,” which he wrote with Nashville-based artists Anderson East (aka Michael Cameron Anderson) and Aaron Raitiere. “It had that song-is-writing-itself feeling that happens when you have the sails up, waiting for something inspiring to happen,” says Bolton, who went to Music City to work with the pair. “We were just kind of messing around and Michael started playing something on the piano and I started singing ‘whatever she wants…’ I had no idea where this was going but we all looked at each other and said, ‘Hmmm…,’ and it became one of my favorite songs on the album. It’s gonna mean different things to different people depending on life experiences, of course, but it’s gonna be a song that everyone who’s lived can relate to.”
That speaks to the entirety of SPARK OF LIGHT, whether it’s the airy lushness of “Running Out of Ways,” the martial swagger of “Just the Beginning,” the heartstring-pulling yearning of “Home” or the sweeping pop majesty of “Out of the Ashes.” “They’re all happy creations,” Bolton notes, “and some of them were really surprises. It’s a record that had a momentum of its own.”
To have that happen is a rare achievement, and not something Bolton takes for granted. It is, after all, nearly five decades since he was playing hard rock with his band Blackjack, four decades since “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” became a #1 single for Laura Branigan before earning Bolton another chart topper and his first Grammy on his own version six years later, and just 30-some years since he solidified his credentials as a hit songwriter with comeback hits for Cher, KISS, and Barbra Streisand. With SPARK OF LIGHT Bolton’s creating and performing at the same high standard he’s pursued throughout this career and confident in the future.
“It’s been, and it is, an incredible ride — and incredibly creative, amazing ride,” Bolton says. “I’ve recognized how fortunate I am, to have worked with so many talented people who keep my level of enthusiasm up. That’s as true now as it’s ever been, and it makes me excited to do even more.”
Spark of Light Tracklist – All Songs co-written by Michael Bolton
Spark of Light
Running Out of Ways
Eyes on You
Beautiful World (feat. Justin Jesso)
Whatever She Wants
Just The Beginning
We Could be Something
Out of the Ashes