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Catchy Americana Tunesmithing from Brilliant Guitarist Homeboy Steve Antonakos

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┬áthe Dirty Water Dogs, brilliant Americana songwriter/chanteuse Drina Seay’s band and possibly others: put it this way,┬áthe 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.

Brilliant Sideman Releases Another Solo Record

In the postapocalyptic world (not) of 12/22/12, what could there possibly be to listen to? Homeboy Steve Antonakos’ new acoustic album. As a sideman, Antonakos’ resume is second to none. Right now he plays with psychedelic rockers Love Camp 7, psychedelic surf rock band the Byzan-tones, haunting Greek psychedelic band Magges (a pattern is starting to emerge here, no?), torchy Americana siren Drina Seay’s band and also cajun rockers the Dirty Water Dogs. Somehow he finds the time to write songs and record them. He put out an album of several of his signature clever, wry Americana-flavored tunes a couple of years ago, and now he’s got a new one, all of it streaming at his Bandcamp site.

It’s the rare Xmas-themed album that doesn’t suck. The first track, a country waltz titled Poor Santa, finds the guy passsed out at the North Pole, where the the ho-ho-ho’s had taken their toll. As it turns out, the guy’s pension’s gone, his HMO won’t cover his health problems – in other words, this is a metaphor for everything that’s wrong with the world right now and in typical Homeboy Steve fashion, it’s funny – the jokes are too good to give away.

Then there’s December Roses, a pensively optimistic fingerpicked country-folk ballad. The big hit here is I Don’t Miss Summer, which screams out for a good janglerock band to cover it. This acoustic version only hints at the deliciousness of where a couple of Rickenbacker guitars could take these catchy changes, and Antonakos’ cynical lyric makes a good contrast with the sunniness of the tune. The ep ends with Dear Santa, a psych-folk tune with a weird twist – any way you look at it, it’s creepy and gets creepier as it goes along. Homeboy Steve Antonakos plays the Sunday Salon at Zirzamin at 7 PM tomorrow, Dec 23.