- Christianity Today Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2009 4 Mar
Jennifer Knapp's noble career has come a long way in the three years since she won the Dove Award as the "Best New Artist." The Los Angeles Times recently called her "a rising star"; People Magazine has described her as "an uncommonly literate songwriter"; and Billboard proclaimed that "Knapp proves herself to be the cream that rises to the top." With her new album, The Way I Am, Jennifer offers an undeniable reminder that musically gifted believers who create with an attitude of humility and excellence will have a profound impact beyond the walls of the church.
This Kansas-born singer-songwriter has quickly sold over 850,000 copies of her first two label releases, 1997's Kansas and 2000's Lay It Down. Her debut is now certified Gold with over half a million sold. Coupled with extensive touring, Jennifer proved herself as a folk-inspired rock artist whose masterful stroke paints redemptive portraits of life's bumpy road. Song after song, she empties her soul through catchy poetic lyrics that utter the precise words so many hearts have long struggled to find. Now with her third label release, The Way I Am, Jennifer returns with arguably her most stirring collection of songs.
"As a songwriter, I've learned it's best to be yourself," says Jennifer. "Rather than focusing on trying to influence, tell and preserve the story and allow the listener to share a moment with you. I feel that I accomplished this with the most purpose on my new album."
Jennifer recorded The Way I Am at New York City's The Power Station, the historic studio that birthed landmark albums by artists like Bruce Springsteen, Sheryl Crow, the Rolling Stones, and Eric Clapton. Jennifer's perspective on songwriting and the sheer honesty of her music led to an impressive collection of contributors within the studio's hallowed halls. Taking the production helm was Tony McAnany (Madonna, Missy Elliott, Sinead O'Connor). He and Jennifer led a host of all-star players that included strings maestro Jeremy Lubbock (Michael Jackson, Madonna, Barbra Streisand), drummer Vinnie Cauliuta (Sting, Frank Zappa), bassist Tony Levin (Tracy Chapman, Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, Paula Cole), programming whiz David Hentschel (Elton John, Genesis), and guitarist Nick Moroch (Vanessa Williams, David Sanborn, The BeeGees).
From the London Symphony Orchestra to the profoundly intimate percussion, The Way I Am features the most realized, full-sounding backdrop for Jennifer's lyrical impressions. The musical dynamics draw out the emotion and passion, especially with the compelling spiritual themes that run through her songs. In fact, the struggles and inner-conflicts addressed in her music are often expressed in the form of confessional prayers.
With The Way I Am, Jennifer continues the spiritual dialogue by writing about the aspects of her faith that she doesn't quite understand. Songs like "By and By" and "Come To Me" find the balance between struggling for deeper understanding yet remaining content not knowing the mysteries of life. "Opening the album with 'By and By' makes sense," says Jennifer, "because it begins the search for grace." Likewise, "Say Won't You Say" and "No Regrets" accept the challenge to find rest in the confusing blur of daily grind.
"Breathe on Me," which appropriately serves as the album's lead single, proved to be the initial creative seed in the making of the record. "'Breathe on Me' was the catalyst for the whole idea of being impelled by the cross," explains Jennifer. "I was trying to literally paint a picture about the process of visualizing the cross and the value that it has for those who know its meaning." Without wavering, each song on The Way I Am comes across as a biographical snapshot that addresses the deeper issues of hope, love, loss and forgiveness in a context that offers grace and peace.
As a teenager, the classically-trained Jennifer attended Pittsburg State University on a music scholarship. Though at first it appeared her major was Freshman Partying 101, some fellow students who were Christians inspired her to turn her mind and heart to matters of faith. Jennifer eventually responded to the truths of the Gospel and naturally began incorporating them into her music. From there, Jennifer began performing throughout the Midwest selling her two custom recordings at concerts. Her second indie album, Wishing Well, attracted the attention of Gotee Records, who signed her the following year. With her personal songwriting and gut-rock vocal style, Jennifer immediately connected with a national audience who, like herself, had known difficulty in life and was looking for genuine insight.
As an incredibly active performer, Jennifer has already shared the stage with many greats, including several peers during dates she did on the last Lilith Fair tour. In the 120 shows she performed in 2001, Jennifer impacted almost a million individuals. This makes it no surprise that she is the only CBA affiliated artist that Pollstar Magazine included among its Top 50 touring acts of the Winter/Spring 2001 season. (Pollstar has even featured Jennifer on their cover.)
Jennifer exemplifies how hook-laden edgy pop music can still have the depth to inspire both the ear and the soul. The Way I Am is an album of substance and style, and heading into 2002, Jennifer appears destined to connect her songs with a world hungry for that "something more" that her music delivers. Rich in goodness, truth and beauty, The Way I Am is as an uncontrived act of worship.