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Tribute to lost daughter finds musical magic

Nikki's Rose
Nikki's Rose
By Peter Sprague

SBE Records: 2001

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This review first appeared in the November 25, 2001 edition of the American Reporter.

This must have been a wrenching album to tackle. Peter Sprague, the San Diego-based guitarist who would surely be an international star if he moved elsewhere, was approached a few years back by Chris Penrod with a request to write music around a poem written by her daughter, Nicole – who had been killed by a drunk driver shortly after her 18th birthday.

But if birthed in sorrow and grief, the result of that effort – which eventually expanded to an even dozen poems by Nicole set to new compositions by Sprague – is a beautiful, sun-drenched celebration of life.

Sprague's music has always had an innate optimism to it, and Nikki's poetry shares that upbeat philosophy. Built around the Brazilian rhythms and harmonies that have always fascinated and influenced Sprague, the songs and lyrics are soaked in a tropical feel – listening to "Nikki's Rose" transports you to a warm beach somewhere in the southern latitudes.

Not only did he compose some of his most inspired songs for this project, but Sprague also gathered an all-star congregation of jazz musicians to give it voice. Singing Nikki's words are such top-flight vocalists as Kevyn Lettau, Amber Whitlock and Nando Lauria. San Diego jazz scene stalwarts Kevin Hennessy (bass), Duncan Moore (drums) and Tom Aros (percussion) flesh out a strong, flexible rhythm section. And the renowned Steve Kujala sits in on flute.

All the talent in the world won't work without vision, of course, and Sprague keeps the effort on track throughout. There is a natural progression between songs, and enough different rhythms and harmonic structures to hold your attention.

As a father of a daughter himself, Sprague would undoubtedly give up everything he managed to pull together if that would bring Nicole Penrod back. It can't, of course, and the anguish of her family and friends cannot be assuaged by even such a beautiful tribute as this. But given the reality of her being taken from us, this is a wonderful gift of love – to her family, and to the rest of us, as well.

(For more information on or to order this release, visit Peter Sprague's Web site or Chris Penrod's site. To learn more about Nikki, visit the Nicole Lauren Penrod Foundation.)