Letting Go of Jennifer Knapp
By Jennifer E. Jones
700 Club Producer
The first time I listened to Jennifer Knapp’s seven-year-hiatus-breaking album Letting Go, I was at a rare loss for words. I even asked the publicists for the lyrics to all the songs, because I just couldn’t grasp what the longtime CCM favorite was getting at.
Even though they say we have fallen
Doesn’t mean that I won’t do it twice
Given every second chance
I choose again to be with you tonight”
Sorry I ever gave a d*mn
Sorry I even tried…
If it made a difference
I might grin and take it all in stride
Walk an extra mile just for your pride
– “If It Made a Difference”
I know they’ll bury me before they hear the whole story…
I know they won’t care to chalk it up to a mistake
Or, God forbid, they give me grace
Well, who in the h*ll do they think they are?
Knapp has been known for honest, bare soul songwriting since the late-‘90s and into the early 2000s. Songs like “Undo Me” and “Breathe on Me” were obviously her pleas for deeper, life-changing experiences with God. So, remembering her then and listening to her now, I got lost somewhere along the way.
Then the official news broke that Jennifer Knapp is gay. Then, it all made sense…
This album is largely about Knapp and her journey to discover herself. Her coming out frames her songs in a new way in which, collectively, one can see she is reaching new heights of vulnerability – for better or worse.
It’s obvious from the first track. On “Dive In”, she belts out, “I’m so tired of standing on the edge of myself / You know I’m longing for it / To dive in”. And dive in she does. She addresses as much as she can in ten songs and shines a light on raw emotions that aren’t for easy listeners.
Christians still clinging to the Jennifer Knapp of Kansas and the young singer/songwriter who sang worship songs with Mac Powell of Third Day will probably be turned off by the, at times, abrasiveness of Letting Go. A few of the songs like “Inside” and “If It Made a Difference” come off as defiantly dismissive towards her critics. Also, there is no worship, no praise songs or even any songs that can be clearly defined as what we typical hear from CCM artists (or Knapp herself on her earlier works).
There are moments where Knapp is more gentle with those who don’t understand this side of her. She confesses, “I’d be better off / I’d be a better man / if I was what you want / And not what I am” on “Better Man”. Then on “Mr. Gray”, she makes a plea for grace: “If I show my hands, would you watch them bleed? / Long enough to prove they are indeed in need of mercy”. She finishes the second verse by saying, “Only God knows who I am.”
Lyrically and musically, this might be Knapp at her best. Her raspy voice has matured, and now she echoes the brassy femininity of Ashley Cleveland and Melissa Etheridge. Because she sings with so much conviction, she makes you believe the lyrics, “let’s wake up wrapped in the joy and the wonder that we have a want for nothing.” She is sticking to her acoustic roots, at times rocking out with a bigger sound on “Dive In” while taking a quiet, simpler approach to the ballads like “Stone to the River”.
After the big announcement, many are wondering where Knapp will go after this. How will Christian audiences receive her now? This critic isn’t sure. All I know is that when I listen to the Jennifer Knapp channel on my Rhapsody or my Pandora, the same artists come up as well: Third Day, Jeremy Camp, Jars of Clay and all the others who sing praises to a loving, gracious God. This new revelation of Knapp cannot undo the legacy of faith that previously marked her music.
Her next move from here is anyone’s guess. However, Letting Go is an invitation to attempt to understand where she is now, and the decision to come along side her is up to you.
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