By Pat Moran
Joe Deninzon &
(Melodic Revolution Records)
With herky-jerky momentum, the sinister yet jolly “Behind the Curtain” kicks off Joe Deninzon & Stratospheerius’ exhilarating fifth album Guilty of Innocence. Chunky guitars, a battery of drums, and a seesawing Jacob’s ladder of electric violin battle for supremacy as Deninzon’s piercing tenor equates American exceptionalism with the fraudulent Wizard of Oz. The metaphor has been employed before, but seldom with such panache.
Deninzon has been called the Jimi Hendrix of electric violin, and that comparison seems apt on “Dream Diary Cadenza,” an excerpt of Deninzon’s solo concerto, where his violin swoops, howls, and dive bombs amid quickening arpeggios.
Elsewhere, Deninzon nods to Jean-Luc Ponty and George Clinton’s Funkadelic while charting an eccentric course that conjoins whiplash funk, spacey electronic, and progressive rock. Vocals adopt a snarky tone, but the lyrics convey anything but cynicism. Deninzon is a moralist raising an alarm and pointing out insanity. “Take Your Medicine,” a revenge fantasy aimed at scam artists, entangles Deninzon’s hyperkinetic bowing and a rubbery bass line in a muscular groove. The set’s title track lambasts the United States court system with squawking guitar, wiseacre lyrics, and Deninzon’s dust-devil ostinatos.
On “Face,” coiled percussion, crunchy guitars, and whirlpooling violin entangle in a grand slalom of power chords, syncopation, and distortion. The 12-minute progressive rock epic “Soul Food” reels out vertiginous violin switchbacks, operatic choruses, and pummeling panzer division drums before galloping to a finale that combines crescendo and cacophony.
Splashy and theatrical, Guilty of Innocence is a howl for justice delivered by virtuosos completely in synch with one another. It’s a darkly comic clarion call to combat affluenza, self-delusion, and the commoditization of daily life. Otherwise, Deninzon seems to say, we’re just another brick in the mall.