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The Collection

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Nov
The Collection
Sounds like … acoustic folk and roots rock along the lines of Natalie Merchant, Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge, Jewel, and Paula ColeAt a glance … a two-disc hits and rarities collection seems odd after only three albums, but this comprehensive and wonderfully packaged anthology makes every effort to respect Knapp's strong fan base

With numerous hits on Christian radio and some best-selling albums to her credit, there is no question that Jennifer Knapp is one of the most important Christian artists from the last ten years, or that her work is worthy of a best-of album. But when a record label puts out a two-disc hits & rarities collection after three projects in six years, questions naturally arise. Sometimes these "greatest hits" compilations signal a parting of ways between artist and label, but Gotee assures us Knapp is still under contract with no intention of going anywhere else. It's only been two years since Knapp's last CD of new songs, The Way I Am, but Gotee says Knapp is simply on "extended sabbatical."

So, while fans continue waiting for new Knapp music, they can enjoy The Collection for what it is—a wonderfully packaged anthology that makes more effort to respect fans than any other in recent memory. The first thing you'll notice is the beautiful cardboard gatefold packaging for the two discs. The extensive CD booklet is filled with beautiful photos of Knapp, old and new. Liner notes for the rare and unreleased tracks explain why they were recorded or how the demos evolved into the well-known finals. But the real highlight is the collection of comments and testimonies from fans touched by Knapp's music. Two or three are listed with each of the hits, which were selected by fans in an online poll.

As such, The Collection gives fans unique involvement and ownership over the album. The generous 15-track retrospective gives each of Knapp's three albums fair due, offering a nice mix of her roots rockers with the more reflective folk songs. Since it's generally considered her best work, it's not surprising that the track listing favors her 1997 debut Kansas the most. Included from that album are hits "Undo Me," "Hold Me Now," "Romans," and "Whole Again," as well as fan favorites "Refine Me" and "Martyrs & Thieves." Her follow-up, 2000's Lay It Down, is represented by hits "A Little More," "Into You," and the title track; fans also chose to include "When Nothing Satisfies" and Knapp's rendition of Shawn Colvin's "Diamond in the Rough." The four best-known tracks from 2001's The Way I Am are featured here: "Breathe on Me," "By and By," "Say Won't You Say," and the title track.

It's hard to criticize this compilation, especially when Knapp's core listeners did the voting. Still, it's unfortunate that Kansas hits "In the Name" and "His Grace Is Sufficient" were left out. And I suppose it would have been too much to hope for the a cappella "Faithful to Me," a song many associate with Knapp as a passionate first impression. Other suitable candidates that didn't make the vote are "Sing, Mary, Sing" and "Usher Me Down." The Collection runs just short of an hour, so it would have been easy to add two or three of these to make a perfect anthology. Nevertheless, it's pretty hard to mess up a hits album that features nearly half of the artist's body of work.

And that's just the first CD. If that's not incentive enough, the second CD in the set will surely drive Knapp fans to the store. Entitled A Diamond in the Rough, it features 15 rarities, largely comprised of guest appearances from other albums and demos of her hits. Included are her two contributions to City on a Hill: Sing Alleluia—"Hallowed," her beautiful rendering of The Lord's Prayer accompanied by Phil Keaggy, and "Sing Alleuia," the hit single featuring Mac Powell (Third Day) and Nichole Nordeman. There's a previously unreleased alternate version of "Say Won't You Say," highlighted by a duet with Michael Tait. Audio Adrenaline's "It Is Well With My Soul" and GRITS' "Believe" are also included, though both involve Knapp more as a backing/duet vocal. As for the demos, the Lay It Down sessions are the best, featuring raw tracks of Knapp with her acoustic guitar—including three unreleased songs. The Kansas demos are only slightly more acoustic, and the Way I Am sessions a little less polished.

It's interesting that Gotee would release an album that nearly negates any reason for buying Knapp's previous releases, but it merely marks the end of Knapp's first career chapter as we wait for the next phase of her career. The Collection is a fine tribute to one of Christian music's most popular songwriters, packaged with lots of love and honor.