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98. AMANDA ST JOHN “Grow” (2016). A pre-release album review

Recently I was contacted by a lady by the name of Amanda St John from Northern Ireland; who, after reading my review of Malaya Blue’s album Heartsick (see my review #95), wondered if I’d like to hear and review her soon to be released debut album Grow. I must confess that her’s was a name that I hadn’t previously heard; but I’m very glad she got got in touch and introduced me to her music, as she is evidently a very talented singer / song-writer I must say; and I decided that I’d like to write about her album.

(Pic: Amanda St John)

(Pic: Amanda St John)

But first a little interesting background info about Amanda.  She has apparently been gigging since she was 14 – and she is now 34. With two decades of experience under her belt, she has become well-known in her native Ulster. But a lot happened to this lady during those twenty years – things that can only be ameliorated via the catharsis of beautiful music and meaningful lyrics. She has not only had to deal with a traumatic divorce; and with the discovery of nodules on her vocal chords that prevented her singing for a time; but worst of all, she suffered a near fatal car crash that left her unconscious with a bad head injury 300 feet down a mountain in Antrim! That incident was an epiphany for her; and once she was on the mend, she decided to throw herself into her music completely.

Her reaction to these terrible events has culminated is some very good music indeed. She has already released a debut EP called Where Is The Man (2013); and this was followed recently by her single ‘Big Strong Man’ (which she describes as a Rockabilly-Jazz shuffle); and a new single ‘You Blew It’ has also now been released (Both feature on the album). But this is her first attempt at a full collection.

Grow contains thirteen, sometimes very personal songs, either penned by the lady herself, or in collaboration with others; and has been a year in the making. It is a Soul/Blues album that is highly palatable for a general audience – and its very good indeed!

The opus starts and finishes with the two parts of the title track, ‘Grow’ – the haunting and emotive short gospel-influenced vocal intro; and the main body of this pensive but optimistic and determined number, reaching a crescendo at the end of the work. These two parts are like bookends surrounding the nine titles between – each song perhaps a volume of Amanda’s life experience laid bare. And there is a great variety of wonderful sounds among them too – Soul; Funk; Blues; Latin and Jazz vibes abound.

I listened to the album intently whilst painting my kitchen recently; and found that I woke up a couple of mornings with some of the songs immediately popping into my mind without prompting! That’s the sign of a good album, without a doubt! It was difficult to pick out a few favourites, but I particularly liked ‘If I Should Fall’ with its tasty guitar, sympathetic horns and nicely arranged backing vocals; and the hauntingly poignant ‘Reach’ with its heart-breaking lyric and beautifully cold, but appropriate, piano.

Amanda’s vocals are very impressive throughout, and have already been compared to various well-known singers by other writers. Personally when I hear her sing, I am reminded of Spiteri and of Stansfield – in both voice and vocal style – and I think she is comparable to these luminaries in terms of quality too. (Fern Kinney springs to mind a little at times as well). She has a unique style though, and that comes through well enough on the album, to make her an obvious original. At all times her voice is controlled; emotive, and a great pleasure to listen to.

Some very fine musos were involved in the making of the album: Paul Tierney (Guitars); John Conway (Bass); Rabb Bennett (Drums); Michael Mormecha (Drums); and John McCullogh (Keys). There are some beautifully arranged strings from Jan Lyttle; tasty trumpet courtesy of Nathan Simpson; and great sax by Kevin Lawless. Sympathetic backing vocals are by Siobahn Brown and Jean Michelo. Recording was of the highest quality too. I cannot comment on the case / sleeve as I haven’t seen it yet.

The album will be released on 6th May 2016; but Amanda will be playing an album launch gig on 3rd May at Black Box, Belfast; before embarking on an Irish tour, including dates in Derry; Dublin; Dundalk and Cork. There is also talk of a US tour too. So it seems that Ms. St John is poised to become far more widely known outside her native Ulster; and I wish her all the success that she deserves. Like me, you may not have previously heard of Amanda – but after hearing Grow you won’t forget her! PTMQ.

Here is a link to Amanda’s FaceBook page.

And the video for her new single (off the album) ‘You Blew It’