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ROYAL COURT OF CHINA (Buy CDs by this artist)
Off the Beat'n Path (Desperation) 1986
The Royal Court of China (A&M) 1987
Geared & Primed (A&M) 1989
SHAKERS
Living in the Shadow of a Spirit EP (Carlyle) 1988

Nashville's Royal Court of China (formerly known as the Enemy) play it hot and sloppy on their independent-label debut, a vivacious seven-song mini-album that fills out Joe Blanton's songs with swirls of wild-eyed guitar to counterbalance his dramatic singing. The quartet's ripping cover of the Yardbirds' "Heart Full of Soul" indicates one influence on their garage-rocking Southeastern pop, but it's only one of several. A fine informal introduction to a promising band with a cool sound.

As if the group's meaningless name weren't misleading enough, the artwork on their 1987 album furthers the stylistic obfuscation. The Royal Court of China shows impressive instrumental and studio facility, but cuts back on the youthful energy a tad too much. While there's no shortage of melodies or guitars, some of the songs fade towards repetitive anonymity, veering into an undistinguished Byrds-country sound. The Royal Court may have escaped the bar band wilderness for a brighter, smoother future, but they need to find something more compelling to replace the immediacy they've lost.

The blustery hard rock on the Vic Maile-produced Geared & Primed wasn't quite what I had in mind. With a new guitar player and bassist, the RCC became a fairly convincing dirtbag band, but Blanton's hoarse shout doesn't cut the mustard and the songs are a hair too complex to suit such rugged treatment.

Rather than follow the Royal Court down the Marshall stack route, the two defectors got themselves a female vocalist, formed the folky Shakers and released a four-song 12-inch, Living in the Shadow of a Spirit, on a local Nashville label.

[Ira Robbins]