It certainly wasn't what they expected when they took
a week off from their other pursuits to record a few songs for the benefit
of their family and friends--sales of 100,000 units, a Dove Award for
Inspirational Album of the Year, appearances on shows like the 700 Club.
No, when stellar pianist Allan Hall along with gifted sibling vocalists
Todd and Nicol Smith produced their simple but stirring collection of
hymns and spirituals entitled Be Still My Soul, it was only intended
to be a gift of encouragement for those who had long supported and encouraged
them. True, they had played a few local gigs together under the name
Selah, but their trio venture was just a fun sideline they dabbled in
After the front office at Curb Records got a copy of it,
signed the group and released the project as it was, things slowly began
to shift. At the time, Nicol was still concentrating on her R&B styled
solo recording for Curb. Allan and Todd were pursuing their own separate
musical ventures as well. So there weren't any great expectations for
the Selah record. The project was just tossed into the retail pond where
it made a few ripples that somehow and inexplicably seemed to keep spreading.
The reality was that people who were discovering Be Still
My Soul couldn't seem to keep it to themselves. Selah's sparse and soulful
renditions of familiar, half remembered songs of theologically rich
praise and heartfelt worship were striking a chord with a wide cross-section
of listeners spanning a broad age range. As one teenage fan explained,
"I bought one for myself, one for my mother, and one for my grandmother!"
That kind of spontaneous, grassroots, word-of-mouth exposure eventually
reached a critical mass, lifting Selah to a level of industry acclaim
and commercial success that they had never envisioned. "It even took
the record company by surprise," Todd admits.
Their follow-up Curb release, Press On, offers the same
unique chemistry as Be Still My Soul, albeit with a bit more octane.
Given a recording budget and a free reign artistically, Selah and Jason
Kyle produced a project that flows naturally from, while extending the
scope of, their earlier effort. The heartbeat of Press On remains centered
somewhere in the delicate interplay between Allan's emotive piano phrasings,
Todd's strong vocal signatures, and Nicol's hauntingly transcendent
and versatile voice. But the addition of a full band on some tracks,
background singers elsewhere, and a featured duet with Christian music
legend Russ Taff on the song "Were You There," all converge to make
this project feel "bigger."
"We didn't want to move too far away from the simplicity
that people responded to on the first record," Nicol explains. "We made
a conscious choice to produce several of the new songs in the same piano/vocal
style, but we were eager to grow as a group too. Recording a few of
the songs with a full band makes for a better variety, especially live."
"This is probably what Be Still My Soul would have sounded
like anyway," Todd adds, "if we'd had a budget when we first went in
to record it."
Ranging from the powerful vocal and string intimacy of
"Oh Draw Me Lord" to the pop-tinged gospel of Jesse Dixon's "Hold On;"
from the eloquent, understated treatment of "How Great Thou Art" to
the all-out soul stirring blues of "Amazing Grace," Press On manages
to cover a vast amount of territory without ever losing its central
focus: drawing listeners toward God by tapping into their spiritual
"The songs on Be Still My Soul were mostly about comfort
and encouragement," says Allan. "Press On seems to be about hope and
joy. What I love about Selah is that we've agreed to approach each song
individually and try to figure out what's the best way to interpret
that particular song. We've never set out to fashion a best-seller or
a radio hit. The common denominator is that these are all songs we love."
In a contemporary Christian music world that continues
to push further and further away from its inspirational roots, the group
Selah stands as a stalwart fortress that refuses to give into the forces
that might wish to see it drown in favor of more contemporary sounding
acts. Returning with their fourth album, Hiding Place, Selah is out
to prove that one can be original and progressive in their sound yet
remain firmly entrenched in the inspirational habitation where they
One part nostalgia, one part arresting artistry, and one
part invitation to worship, Selah's unique musical blend has again succeeded
in breathing new life into previous generations of song. "I think a
lot of people are drawn to what we're doing simply because they see
how real it is to us," Todd says. "We love these songs and believe in
them and that kind of belief is always contagious."
"Older people are glad to see that the hymns that have
meant so much to them aren't just going to die out," Nicol adds. "We've
had 70-year-old people come up to us after a concert and say, 'My grandmother
used to sing me that song when I was a kid.' These songs form a unique
and special bridge to the past for a lot of people, and at the same
time they can be brand new to a younger generation."
One of the most obviously unique elements in Selah's music
is directly attributable to Todd and Nicol's own African roots. Growing
up as part of a missionary family stationed in the Congo, they not only
learned to speak the local Kituba dialect, but they absorbed the indigenous
musical influences as well. In addition to the blatant rhythms and intricate
vocal layerings of the straightforward Congolese praise song "Yesu Azali
Awa " (Jesus is here with us), Todd and Nicol's African heritage asserts
itself more sublimely elsewhere on Press On.
The most fundamentally striking quality that Selah's listeners
are likely to discover about the Press On project, is the way so many
diverse threads, so many styles, so many heritages and traditions, so
many distinct stories are woven together into one seamless project.
That, and the fact that the project still somehow manages to retain
its aura of simplicity.
"I think we'll always love working with the simple melodies
of the hymns," Allan says. "Hymns are so well crafted to begin with,
so well written lyrically. Their musical simplicity allows the heart
and the emotional honesty to come through. That's why they so effectively
communicate joy and hope and comfort and encouragement to people."
"It really is our hope," Todd adds in summation, "that
people will see God in a real way through our music. The bottom line
is that we want them to see and know His faithfulness, His forgiveness,
and His love."
2005 is already shaping up to be an exciting year for
Selah. We are blessed by the tremendous response you've given our album
Hiding Place and look forward to seeing you out on the road in the next
few months. As Nicol and Greg work to establish their ministry, we are
thrilled to announce that Melodie Crittenden will be joining us.
Melodie attended Belmont University with Todd and Allan.
Allan and Melodie have known each other about 14 years now, and even
attended the same church in Nashville for a number of years. As you
will discover, Melodie is an exceptionally gifted vocalist; we know
you will be blessed by her gift and her sweet spirit. We're very excited
for you all to meet her, and she is looking forward to meeting you out
on the road!
We are excited for Nicol as she embarks on a new chapter
in her life of ministry with her husband, Greg Sponberg. As many of
you know, Nicol and Greg were married about a year and a half ago. Greg
is a graduate student at Moody Bible Institute and plans to graduate
"African music is just a part of us," Todd explains. "It's
what we grew up with. It's in our blood. We've been singing it since
we were 7-years-old. When we perform the African songs live, audiences
really respond to it."
Seeking a different sort of response, Selah has recently
partnered with Todd and Nicol's parents in an effort to raise $500,000
for a hospital facility in the region of the Congo where they still
live and minister.
"There's so much need there," Todd says, "and people die
needlessly from so many treatable illnesses. We want to help these people
live better lives, physically as well as spiritually. We want them to
hear the Gospel, but we want them to experience God's mercy in action
too. We're inviting all of our friends to be a part of this lifesaving
hospital project with us."
Selah's Hiding Place also features three bonus tracks, featuring
a song from each of the trio's upcoming solo projects
The rest of the album alternates between powerful inspirational
cuts, African songs, and hymns. "Part the Waters Lord/I Need Thee Every
Hour" is a powerhouse showcase of everything that fans of Selah love
about the voice of Nicole (Smith) Sponberg - the only negative is that
it doesn't go any longer. The jazzy, gospel-tinged "There Is Power In
the Blood" is a true showstopper, practically daring you not to get
up and clap. "You Are My Hiding Place" is a beautiful take on this worship
classic - the vocals over the later part of the song are particularly
strong. A cover of the classic Andrae Crouch song, "Through It All,"
was a welcome surprise - Nicole (Smith) Sponberg may be a white woman
but, boy, can she sing a black gospel song with the best of them.
Inspirational music, or adult-oriented pop music, is tricky
territory. It's way to easy to slip into middle of the road blandness
or go overboard with the big ballads and power vocals. Hiding Place
does neither, and though it swings and misses on a few tracks it really
stands up as one of the better inspirational projects that I've heard
this year. Fans of Selah's earlier works should not be disappointed
and, thanks to "You Raise Me Up," a new group of people may find themselves
happily exposed to this talented trio.
Comprised of stellar keyboard and vocalist, Allan Hall
and sibling vocalists Todd and Nicol Smith, this trio has achieved renowned
success within the Christian marketplace. Initially, focused on reinterpreting
original hymns into their own harmonious style, Selah, an award winning
group sets its sights on continuing a growing sales pattern and winning
and influencing music consumers well beyond the Christian marketplace.
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