Nicol Sponberg

Nicol Sponberg’s life cannot be classified as ordinary. She spent part of her growing-up years as a missionary kid in the bush of Africa. She was one-third of the Dove Award-winning Christian group Selah, whose songs still permeate the hearts of listeners. She experienced a whirlwind courtship at age 32, marrying her husband just over 2 months after they met. And she’s known loss, as her second child died of SIDS only 10 weeks after he was born.

The threads of her life are woven into a beautiful tapestry that makes Nicol who she is today. She grew up singing the sacred hymns of the church, and they still speak to her heart. Now she’s selected a few of her favorite hymns for her new project from Discovery House, “Awake My Soul.” In her distinctive, husky voice, Nicol brings each song to life with the prayer that its words will speak to listeners as well.

“Awake, my soul, and sing” is a line from the hymn “Crown Him with Many Crowns.” It lends itself perfectly to the CD’s title as Nicol chooses daily to sing praise to her Savior through the highs and lows of life.

One of the lows that forever changed Nicol and her husband, Greg, was walking the excruciating valley of the unexpected death of baby Luke. This came just one month after the death of Nicol’s infant niece, the daughter of her brother (and former Selah singing partner) Todd Smith and his wife. Having seen miraculous physical healings firsthand in Africa, Nicol believes in the dramatic power of prayer. “I think that was why it was so hard for me when we lost our son—because I had seen God heal people, including my own brother when he was sick. And here we are in America with all the greatest resources, and they couldn’t bring my son back to life.”

But with each heartache, Nicol chooses to see the good. “It makes us treasure our children more,” she says. “We had three miscarriages after losing Luke, and you realize it’s just such a gift to bring a child into the world. I don’t know if I would appreciate my children as much if it hadn’t been for all the loss. There are things that just don’t matter anymore. Suffering just changes you. It humbles you whether you want it to or not.”

And from that humble heart, Nicol gives wing to the hymns on “Awake My Soul.” The first song she knew she wanted to include was “Sweet Hour of Prayer.” She says, “I love the words to this song. To have that time with Him makes such a difference. That song right now has really special significance to me—I think because we’re in such a time of transition. It’s the only way I’m going to have peace—by spending time with Him.”

“In the Garden” is another hymn that deeply speaks to Nicol because, as she says, “there’s such an intimacy in that song.” Nicol continues, “I think that’s when our lives are changed—when we know that He loves us individually. He died for the whole world, but He would have died just for me, and that He wants a relationship with you individually. It’s such beautiful imagery. I just love where the lyrics take you. We’re in the garden and we’re having this time when you just feel His love. You’re communicating with him on a heart level.”

Prayer and intimacy with God allow Nicol to relinquish control of her life, letting Him fully take charge. With all of life’s uncertainties, she can confidently put her trust in God and boldly proclaim “He Leadeth Me.” This song, she says, is “very, very personal. I just need that reassurance especially when you’re in a time of transition. I just need that reminder that He’s leading me. You can’t see it right now—you can’t see the way He’s putting things together.”

Recalling a rough recovery from malaria in Africa, Nicol says, “I remember sitting down with a hymn book on the days when I felt good and just going through these old songs. It was like therapy for me. There are wonderful things about living out there. The people think nothing of fasting and praying for three days. They love having all night prayer meetings and things like that. They are just not living for this world. Life is really hard for them. And their mind is, ‘We’re just passing through.’”

That’s a thought we can all take to heart. Nicol quotes her good friend Nell who—after going through a very difficult time in her life—said, “We are pilgrims passing through and we need to lock arms with each other while we’re here on earth ’til we get to the other side.”

Until that time, Nicol hopes that her new CD will comfort listeners and help them realize that they are not alone. Life can be challenging, but the words in these songs remind us that God is good. “That’s why these songs are timeless,” Nicol says. “They just reach into your soul.”

“Awake My Soul” is available now wherever music is sold.

Track Listing for “Awake My Soul”:
1. Crown Him (Forever)
2. No, Not One
3. In the Garden
4. The Solid Rock
5. Greater Still
6. Our Great Savior
7. Sweet Hour of Prayer
8. Holy, Holy, Holy
9. Wonderful Grace of Jesus
10. Trust and Obey
11. He Leadeth Me

Decyfer Down

Grammy and Dove-nominated rock band Decyfer Down is laying the foundation for its first full-length studio album in over two years, The Other Side Of Darkness, set to release independently early 2016 through The Fuel Music.

Returning to its indie roots after a decade of touring and three acclaimed label releases, the band– Brandon Mills and Chris Clonts (guitars), TJ Harris (vocals/guitar), Benjamin Millhouse (drums) and Chris Furr (bass)– is reveling in its new found freedom to write, record, release and perform new music.

Following seven No. 1 Christian Rock radio hits, their new radio single, “Nothing More,” is a fists-in-the-air anthem meant to encourage fans to move forward with God regardless of what might try to stand in the way.

“We all have toxins and struggles that we deal with every single day, whether it’s a bad relationship or some sort of thing in our lives that is weighing us down and hindering our relationship with God and His ultimate plan for our life,” says Decyfer Down guitarist Chris Clonts. “We want nothing more than to sever toxic ties, and to move forward with God.”

Taking the new music from The Other Side Of Darkness, as well as its growing list of fan favorites, on the road, Decyfer Down plans to tour heavily in 2016. The upcoming tour follows 32 packed events last winter/spring with Disciple, Seventh Day Slumber and Nine Lashes.  –Christian Music Makers


Karyn Williams

Karyn Williams is the Christian Katy Perry. Or at least it seems that way on the first song on her sophomore release. The song, “Running To The Sea,” could easily get soccer moms exercising at the gym with its disco beat and lyrics about surrendering to God like a river runs to the sea. I really like the song, by the way, and I’m not a soccer mom…

Karyn Williams’ latest release, Letting Go of Perfect, stands out among inspirational pop albums because of its above ordinary production value. Her producers make her songs sound a cut above the rest that are out there these days– it’s like they added little bits of spice into each song to give them extra impact.

“Head Up” follows in the Katy Perry “Running To The Sea” vein with its hand clappin’, foot stompin’ vibe. This time around, though, “Head Up” will remind you more of Shania Twain, and that’s cool, too. “Head Up” is a song presumably for Christian women to sing at conferences, church gatherings, or at home, encouraging them to hold their heads up as children of The King.

I would say Christian women in their 30s and 40s would most relate to the music of Karyn Williams. Fans of Country music, piano pop, Josh Groban, Selah, Point of Grace, Britt Nicole, and Tammy Trent should appreciate Karyn Williams.

My pal Carl West discovered by Marquis Boone

C West
Left to right: RCA Inspiration A&R executive Kenyan Pencal, IGA Talent Management Executive Damon Stewart, Jokia Williams, Marquis Boone, C West, Grammy Award Nominated Producer Mave and emcee Fonzworth Bentley.

My Buffalo pal Carl West recently got discovered by Marquis Boone at Boone’s first ever “Discovered” conference in Georgia. Carl West, aka “C West,” is a singer who can play guitar and has a heart for the Lord. Boone is a Gospel music promoter who played a major role in introducing new talent to the Gospel music world recently– including Casey J and Bri!

So it’s exciting that Marquis Boone discovered C West at his “Discovered” conference.

In partnership with ASCAP, the oldest and most prestigious performance rights organization in the USA, “Discovered” was an intense, one-day long series of instructional sessions to assist those seeking to break into various aspects of the entertainment industry with workshops ranging from social media branding and songwriting to artist management.

“We attracted more participants than we targeted,” Boone says. “Throughout that day and since then I’ve received so many calls and emails from people who really appreciated the information they received.”

A who’s who of the Urban and Gospel music industry showed up to offer advice to aspiring entertainment professionals. Celebrity Vocal Coach “Mama” Jan Smith, who has worked with stars like Usher and Justin Bieber, as well as Crystal Nicole, who has penned songs for artists like Beyonce, shared some of their roughest experiences that propelled them to the next level in their careers. Lee Lee Lyons of the legendary R&B trio SWV talked about her own career ups and downs while also offering specific advice to various people requesting it during her discussion.

Throughout the day there were classes on publishing, getting songs played on the radio, songwriting skills, how to read recording contracts and public relations techniques. It all led up to the evening showcase of two dozen artists vying for a demo deal with Marquis Boone Enterprises. Hosted by Fonzworth Bentley, host of BET’s “Lift Every Voice” program, he hilariously emceed as a range of artists from inspirational rappers to traditional gospel acts performed for a four-person judging panel of industry leaders.

“It was very hard to pick a winner,” Boone says. “There were so many good artists but there were a couple who just already seemed ready for primetime so instead of crowning one winner, we did two.”  The two winners were Jokia Williams, a singing guitarist from Texas with a style similar to that of Indie Arie, and C West, another guitarist with “more of a Lenny Kravitz vibe.” Boone will create commercial grade demos for both and the world will then wait and see what’s next for these first two “Discovered” graduates. I’m hoping Boone does a great job letting people know what I already know: C West should be known in the Gospel music world! –Mark Weber

Chris Tomlin Live Christmas Album

The Chris Tomlin Live Christmas Album is something different, right? So many Christmas albums are not LIVE. Therefore, having the Chris Tomlin live Christmas album, called “Adore Christmas songs of worship,” is going to connect with a lot of people this Christmas season and ones to come. Want to hear the artist talk about the Chris Tomlin live Christmas album? Right here: