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Album Review: Bella
Rick Sparks
Cover image of the album Bella by Rick Sparks
Rick Sparks
2021 / Rick Sparks
41 minutes
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