Where Is The Man

Amanda St John makes a strong first impression with her debut EP, produced by Gareth Dunlop

You only get one chance to make a first impression, as the dusty old saying goes, and when it comes to music in the digital age, the phrase couldn't be more apt. With access to albums, singles and EPs a mere click away, it's increasingly important to make as big an impact as you can with the first shots from your sonic arsenal.

One such performer who realises this is relative new-comer to the Northern Irish music scene, Amanda St John. Having cut her teeth playing in cover bands over the years and learning her craft collaborating with the likes of Ben Glover, Ciaran Gribbin and Duke Special, St John has now stepped out on her own with the release of her debut EP, Where Is The Man.

Born out of a near death experience, which spurred the tunesmith on after being seriously injured in a car crash, the four track affair sees St John put her apprenticeship, if you will, to good use. You would never know that this is her first collection of original material, so confident and assured is each track.

Very much a record steeped in the Northern Irish soul, Where Is The Man. Built around understated keys and guitar, St John's stories of love, longing and disillusion are very well arranged and produced.

Opening with the collection's title track, economical guitars accent the rhythm of the tune while St John's voice sounds not a million miles away from Portishead frontwoman Beth Gibbons' bruised croon.

At first a little dubby, the track evolves into a soul/pop tune with the singer playing the role of scorned woman with aplomb. Flashes of her native Northern Irish accent-especially during the line 'Where is the man / Where is the man that I gave my heart to?' refrain are most welcome.

Next we have 'Reach'. It keeps the tempo up thanks to a catchy hook and a falsetto chorus, which shows off St John's emotive vocal. There's also a nice piano-led bridge and some subtle but effective drums courtesy of the fine session musicians that St John has assembled.

'You'll Never Change' is the record's big soul-infused ballad, and will appeal to fans of all those classic Wilson Pickett and Al Green tracks. Featuring some sterling organ work and a waltzing rhythm, it's hard to dispel the image of Marie Doyle Kennedy et al during their Commitments days when you listen to it. But that's no bad thing.

It's an unashamed, straight up Celtic soul song that is immaculately produced by acclaimed Northern Irish singer/songwriter Gareth Dunlop, who also performs backing vocals on several tracks.

Where Is The Man closes with the tear-strained ballad 'Come Back To Me', the weakest of the bunch. It's a little too melodramatic for these ears, but the cello solo is gorgeous and adds some warmth to the piano-led number.

While lyrically the woman scorned subject matter does get over-played over the four songs, and St John hasn't really added anything new to a well-worn genre, her passion for her craft shines through on this EP. It's a strong first chapter from an emerging artist destined to write a long musical story.