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Sounds like … the intensity of Melissa Etheridge, Janis Joplin and pre-pop Sheryl Crow, plus some of the folk simplicity of Joni Mitchell, Shawn Colvin and Joan Baez. At a glance … this live album shows why the retired Knapp is still one of the most important singer/songwriters Christian music has ever hadTrack Listing Romans Lay It Down Whole Again When Nothing Satisfies Usher Me Down The Way I Am His Grace Is Sufficient Martyrs and Thieves Fall Down Refine Me A Little More Into You Undo Me
Okay, so long-absent Jennifer Knapp isn't about to return to Christian music after her much-publicized sabbatical—or was it retirement?—nearly four years ago. When the beautifully packaged retrospective The Collection released in 2003, at least we all hoped for a second coming of sorts at some point, but we kept waiting, to no avail. But for now, thanks are due to producer/guitarist Mark Lee Townsend, who providentially decided to bring tape machines while on the road during Knapp's first headlining tour, resulting in the simply titled Live, the second post-departure anthology of the singer's work.
From a practical standpoint, Live is a necessary listen, as Knapp always sounded more reassured, outspoken and confident in her skin in a concert setting than in her oftentimes coy and all-too-proper studio albums. She mastered the art of honest, heart-on-sleeve ruminations, so folk was the obvious conduit for those sentiments. But here she displays her latent rock persona, and her introspection is elevated because of it. Caught on tape at the zenith of her Back Forty Tour, the trifecta of "Romans," "Lay It Down" and "Whole Again" that opens the disc is flawless and fearless, and it's the rockiest that Knapp has ever sounded. But the intimate moments ("Martyrs and Thieves," "Refine Me") are still precious, and in the end our beloved folk chanteuse hasn't gone anywhere.
It's a shame that Knapp's celebrated third opus, The Way I Am, is underrepresented, as only the title track and "Fall Down" make an appearance here. But when Live was recorded, those tunes were still in their gestation period, which explains why their sound is so immature and incomplete, evident in the band's reticence to play them with the confidence of Knapp's more full-grown repertoire. It's that confidence, plus Knapp's unassuming yet naturally occurring rock 'n' roll bravado, that make Live a blistering concert experience, even when the nostalgia makes it hard to shake off the feeling this might be the last we hear of one of Christian music's most important singer/songwriters of the late '90s.