Homeboy Steve Antonakos is one of the half-dozen best guitarists in New York. He can shift from a flurry of elegant jazz chords, to beery honkytonk, to spiky, reverbtoned surf rock, to haunting Middle Eastern-flavored lines in the span of a few seconds and make it all seem completely natural. As you would expect, he gets plenty of work. Acts he currently plays with include 1920s-style Greek hashish-folk band Dervisi, cajun rockers the Dirty Water Dogs, brilliant Americana songwriter/chanteuse Drina Seay’s band and possibly others: put it this way, the guy’s in demand. But he’s also a solo artist. He’s got a new album, Rock N Roll Sun – streaming at Bandcamp – and an album release show at the Parkside on July 21 at 7 PM.
To Antonakos’ further credit, the album is just as much about tunesmithing as it is about the guitars. The title track opens it – it’s a wry look at how audiences live vicariously through musicians, especially if they’ve gotten to the point where they’ve left their own dreams behind. Behind Antonakos – who’s really done a good job pulling his vocals together here – there’s Neil Thomas on piano, Skip Ward on bass, Kenny Soule on drums and Seay on characteristically crystalline, spine-tingling vocal harmonies.
I’ll Find a Way, a swaying four-chord purist pop song, takes the point of view of a guy who isn’t a Humphrey Bogart or Steve McQueen but still has enough in him to save the day. At the Treehouse sends a shout-out to Tom Clark’s Sunday night Americana jamboree upstairs at 2A, capped off by a lively, bluesy dobro solo.
My Bones Will Remember, a pensive when-I-get-old narrative inspired by a trip to Greece to an ancestral graveyard, opens with churchy organ and builds to a slow crescendo fueled by Antonakos’ terse slide work. On I Don’t Wanna Be Wanted, a ridiculously simple, catchy bluegrass-tinged number, Antonakos and Seay blend voices to create a tender vintage C&W scenario.
Antonakos follows the wistful ballad December Roses with the album’s best track, I Don’t Miss Summer, a killer garage-pop hit driven by Bruce Martin’s roller-rink organ. Tomorrow’s Girl nicks the changes from Bob Seger’s Turn the Page and turns it into a brooding, restless acoustic Nashville gothic tune. After that, there’s Live it Down, a shuffling oldschool garage rock tune co-written with Seay and done as janglerock, and then the album’s closing cut, Better Off With the Blues, an elegantly swinging solo acoustic jazz tune with Django Reinhardt echoes.