Back in 1998, I found myself browsing through the small music selection of a Christian bookstore, desperately hoping to find an album that combined well-crafted lyrics and the acoustic-guitar, female singer/songwriter music style that dominated my listening at the time. That's where and how I first stumbled across Jennifer Knapp. If my copy of Kansas had been a tape or vinyl record, I might have worn it out from playing it as often as I did. Several years and several albums passed, and my interest in Knapp's music did not waver, but to my disappointment, she seemed to disappear off the face of the earth in 2004.
Well, that was then and this is now. Starting with some live shows in the fall of 2009, Knapp has returned to the music scene, and this week sees the release of her new album, Letting Go. Although Knapp remains a self-proclaimed Christian, this album is not specifically Christian music. In an interview with Christianity Today, she stated, "To me, my faith is fairly evident in what I'm writing, but it's not a record for the sanctuary." It's clear to anyone who hears Letting Go that Knapp's songwriting remains primarily focused on meaningful lyrics and well-crafted pop hooks, and that will fit in just fine with the current adult alternative album market.
The opening track, "Dive In," is one of several rockers that showcase Knapp's powerful, rich vocals. It's also a great intro to an album fans have been anticipating for years, "I'm so tired of standing on the edge of myself you know I'm longing for to dive in." It speaks to the journey she has been on from leaving the music industry to returning. It speaks to the connections she has with the people in her life. It speaks to being your whole self rather than spending so much effort and energy on holding it back.
"Fallen" reminds me of "Martyrs and Thieves" from Kansas, in that it addresses the struggle that gay Christians face in being true to themselves and the teachings of the Church, but it indicates she is much more settled now and less fretful about it. Several lines from "Martyrs and Thieves" implies that she is ashamed of being closeted and hiding her true self, and more importantly, she seems to wrestle with the dichotomy of being gay and being told that everything about that aspect of her is wrong: "There are ghosts from my past who've owned more of my soul than I thought I had given away. They linger in closets and under my bed, and in pictures less proudly displayed." The past decade appears to have given her a different perspective, and in "Fallen," she sings, "Even though they say we have fallen, it doesn't mean that I won't do it twice. Given it a second chance I choose again to be with you tonight."
Knapp's sexuality may be a stumbling block for some of her old fans, and in interviews she acknowledges that she has received significant criticism even when it was only a rumor. However, given the strength of this album, I hope that those who care more about the message than the messenger will still be able to hear the powerful, real-life spirituality that pervades her music.