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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

The Way I Am

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2001 1 Jan
The Way I Am
Sounds like … earthy guitar-based folk/pop/rock that recalls artists such as Melissa Etheridge and Sheryl CrowAt a Glance … though casual listeners may be disappointed that this album is so low-key compared to her previous hit singles, those looking for introspective and soul-searching lyrics will be thrilled with The Way I Am.

Jennifer Knapp is unquestionably one of Christian music's brightest stars, with her first album, Kansas, achieving gold status with 500,000 sales and her follow-up, Lay It Down, coming close with 350,000 albums sold to date. My theory is that people identify with Jennifer's music because it's organic, and her lyrics are so real. She's poetic in the way she paints her songs with thoughts and emotions, reflecting upon common struggles among Christians that don't often get discussed. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have a knack for catchy melodies too, and Jennifer's earthy rock sound has justifiably earned her comparisons to Sheryl Crow, Natalie Merchant, Paula Cole, and Melissa Etheridge.

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 Way I Am showcases Jennifer's lyrical and musical strengths, it's also a pretty homogenous sounding album, with several of the songs bleeding into each other because they're so similar sounding. Both the title track and "By and By" seem to have the same guitar riff, and those two songs have a similar mid-tempo shuffle feel to other album tracks such as "Sing Mary Sing" and "Come to Me." Because most of the songs are mid-tempo, with a few ballads thrown in, fans may be disappointed that there are no rockers such as "Undo Me" and "Into You," or even an up-tempo pop song such as "In the Name."

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, The Way I Am is a cohesive and well-written album that outlines the struggle we all face pertaining to our sinfulness and God's grace.