I am determined to start this review about the remarkable Rose Kemp album Unholy Majesty (One Little Indian Records, Sept. 2008) without mentioning her parents. So I won’t – not yet anyway – even if they are Maddie Prior and Rick Kemp from Steeleye Span. Damn.
Since hearing Unholy Majesty I’ve been trying to find different superlatives to help describe the extraordinarily talented Rose Kemp. In fairness to the reviewer, she is impossible to pigeonhole and, it has to be said, that to try and do that would, in fact, be doing her a great disservice. In short ‘England’s’ Rose is simply remarkable. Her work both on 2007’s A Hand Full of Hurricanes and this, the latest album, Unholy Majesty is uniquely powerful. Rose Kemp can be uplifting, passionate, sensual, disturbing, unsettling, invigorating, definitely compelling, and totally absorbing.
What makes her so different is that she can switch from one element to another with absolute authority and conviction. Never influenced by any trend her work ranges from her family folk background right through the spectrum to her heavy rock influences gained throughout her teenage years. It is not merely the range in her style that draws you like a moth to a burning flame it is the range in her voice.
Unholy Majesty mesmerises, hypnotises and lures the listener to silencing any gathering of people in the process. This applies to every track on the extraordinary album which opens with the stunningly effective “Dirty Glow”. This comes complete with violin and a superbly balanced musical arrangement but it is Rose that grabs your attention with her incredible delivery and powerful lyrics. It is edgy and slightly disturbing.
You might at this point be thinking, having listened to her voice on this track, that Rose is closely following her famous mother but as the album progresses that will be seen to be somewhat off the mark. In many ways the cover of the album depicts in graphic detail what is to come. A magpie sits on a barbed wire fence, under a blackened sky, before a dark hilltop church. The magpie has blood dripping from its beak spelling out Rose’s name.
“Nanny’s World” gives vent to a Sabbathesque riff that Tony Iommi would be proud of. “Bitter & Sweet” is disturbingly dramatic, sinister even. The mood switches on “Flawless” which begins in minimalistic fashion with Rose and piano before leading to a delightful violin section that left me totally spellbound, almost frozen in the headlights. The lush “Saturday Night” paints a story so vividly that it becomes a clear visual image within two lines. It includes simple, yet totally devastating, images as Rose floors you with, ‘this is the worst weekend that I’ve ever had’. “Nature’s Hymn” is as beautiful as the natural world that it is about. The dramatic “Vacancies” swoops and soars and in so doing demands your complete and utter attention. The album ends with “The Unholy” an edgy, unsettling and, yes there is no other way to describe it, haunting track.
Lyrically compelling Unholy Majesty contains superb musical arrangements throughout and none more so than on “The Unholy”. Yet it has to be Rose’s vocal delivery of these songs that will remain with you long after the album comes to its spiky finish. This music will seep its way into your sub-consciousness, disturb you, haunt you but compel you. Unholy Majesty is akin to standing on a cliff edge and feeling compelled to step off. Powerful stuff indeed.