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A Joe That's Better Than Average : X Members "Down With the Average Joe" Priority (** 1/2)

August 27, 1996|MIKE BOEHM

Let's hope somebody is down with (as in "supportive of") Mike "Gabby" Gaborno, a better-than-average punk rocker who has reason to be a bit down on the music business.

After years of hard touring and honorable but profitless striving as front man of the hard-revving O.C. roots-punk band Cadillac Tramps, Gabby caught a good break when Priority Records signed his new band, X Members. No sooner did "Down With the Average Joe" emerge in mid-July than X Members were recruited to crisscross the nation on the high-profile Warped Tour, followed by a series of packed Midwestern club and theater dates opening for No Doubt. But just as things were progressing, Priority suddenly decided to drop its recently created alternative rock roster and concentrate on the rap music that established the independent label's reputation.

This leaves X Members scrambling to secure the rights to their CD (which manager Steve Westman is confident Priority will agree to without strings that could hamper the band), then find a new label willing to promote it and fund further touring.

Meanwhile, "Down With the Average Joe" is in the stores, and, unless X Members gets another good break, it could turn into a limited-edition collector's item.

Punk fans won't easily find a more zooming item to collect. But while X Members' songs typically hurtle along to a pummeling hard-core beat, most of them don't neglect melody. And Gabby applies his knack for injecting a humorous, human dimension into an all-too-often one-dimensionally irate genre.

The band's songwriters, Gabby and guitarist Ray "Bones" Rodriguez, usually go for the same truth-and-consequences, slice-of-life vignettes that were a hallmark of Cadillac Tramps. The first track, "Mr. Neutron," ties together Gabby's past and present chapters by riding a scraping guitar rhythm straight out of the Tramps' operating manual.

But after that, the old hard-core punk-polka takes over, driven expertly by Mick Palmesano, who played speed-metal in his old band, Aversion. Rodriguez and former ADZ guitarist Roger Ramjet give shape and coherence to their charged riffs. A few cuts, especially "Loser," with its liquid, flowing guitar textures and Beatles-esque connecting chords, take a welcome detour from hard-core norms.

Gabby isn't a conventionally gifted singer, but he is a distinctive role-player with a husky growl that sounds like nobody else. Among the slices of life he enacts here are the knucklehead who gets in a fight at a concert and inadvertently slugs his date (the very catchy "Head") and the heroin addicts living out their own version of "Trainspotting" ("Loser").

It all works best when Gabby is able to convey a sardonic sense of humor along with tension and urgency, as if to say that most of the setbacks in the life of an average Joe are serious--but not too serious to laugh at.


Ratings range from * (poor) to **** (excellent), with *** denoting a solid recommendation.

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