The Way I Am
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2001 1 Jan
Jennifer Knapp is unquestionably one of Christian music's brightest stars, with her first album,
Jennifer's songwriting has always been mature, but this is easily her most introspective and soul-searching album yet. The Way I Am is like a guided tour through the thought process of Jennifer Knapp. Beginning with the moody bounce of "By and By," Jennifer writes from the perspective of one in a desperate search for grace amid a life full of stress and turmoil. The answer to this yearning comes in the form of "Breathe On Me," which points us toward the cross for salvation. This is followed by the dark mid-rock of the title track, which comes to grips with our sinful human nature and the fact that God loves us so much despite that, "It's better off this way to be deaf, dumb, and lame than to be the way I am." Recognizing this profound love, Jennifer prays to God for reassurance in "Say Won't You Say," and then accepts that bottomless love in the contemplative free-form sound of "Around Me" — "If all the worlds were scattered and I found my way to here / then how can I love you the way that I love you? / Big sky and a silver moon, the apple of your eye / How can I explain it? How can I maintain this?"
You can see why this album is a triumph in songwriting. It's not just a collection of songs that recite the usual Christian topics, but rather a soliloquy from someone wrestling with our sinfulness and God's perfect love. This theme of grace is stated most eloquently in "Fall Down" — "Judge me not ye saints, for my history may be tainted, but I'm sober enough to know blood when I see it." Other album highlights for me were the prayerful "Light of the World" and the lushly orchestrated "No Regrets," which closes the album.
Though the sound of this album is something of a departure from Jennifer's previous releases, it's still organic and folk-pop at the core, featuring a stellar team of studio musicians and Jennifer's guitar work. The songs are also highlighted by programming effects and the London Symphony Orchestra. Jennifer's vocals are as passionate and powerful as I've ever heard, though she's still prone to occasionally indistinct phrases. Overall, this is a bold and mature album from Jennifer, but I suspect it will receive a mixed reaction from some people. Independently, any of these songs are among Jennifer's finest works, but collectively people may get tired of the mid-tempo sound by the album's end. The irony of this is that the songs work better together as a single album because they're part of the same picture. Ultimately, though I wish there were a little more variety to the songs,