We haven’t yet had the chance to catch either of the first two artists featured in our new Mojo Risin’ series – Scottish singer and guitarist Lewis Hamilton and New England vocalist Julie Rhodes – live, but the next act we’re spotlighting is one that can be found much closer to home for us in the Pittsburgh-based Billy the Kid & The Regulators, who we’ve had the pleasure of seeing now on several occasions, including at the 2014 Heritage Music BluesFest in Wheeling, where we shot these photos.
A two-time finalist in the annual International Blues Challenge (IBC) – first for best self-produced CD in the 2013 competition for their She Got a Hold on Me, and then again the following year in the band category – Billy the Kid & The Regulators every bit live up to the spirit of the historical moniker they’ve chosen: a high-energy, modern-day musical equivalent of the Wild West posse of which the famous gunslinger was a member. Fronted by lead singer and guitarist Billy Evanochko, these Regulators are a soulful, guitar-driven R&B outfit with a gritty, vibrant Americana sound similar to that of roots rockers JJ Grey & Mofro.
Those looking to acquaint themselves with these outlaws of soul will find the band’s latest album I Can’t Change a great place to start. Produced by fellow 2014 Heritage Music BluesFest artist Damon Fowler, I Can’t Change captures the band delivering a groove-filled mix of originals and covers, from the opening title track to the catchy, uptempo “Saturday Night”, patient takes on blues numbers like Jimmy Reed’s “Can’t Stand to See You Go” and Dave MacKenzie’s “Slender Man Blues”, and a tough, romping version of Little Walter’s “Who”, one of several songs to feature Jason Ricci on harmonica.
In addition to producing, Fowler also contributes guitar on “Saturday Night”, alongside other guests Ricci, Ohio guitarist and 2007 IBC winner Sean Carney, and local singer Yolanda Barber – whose sometimes smooth, sometimes gravelly, Ursula Ricks-style vocals can also be heard on a handful of other tunes including the simmering title track and other notable originals like the passionate “What Are We Fighting For” (on which Billy reflects “what the hell are we fightin’ for? right or wrong, I’m not sure/ better days are comin’, good things in store/ all I know is I can’t fight no more”) and “Story of the Blues” – with another Ohio guitarist and IBC Youth Showcase winner Micah Kesselring also joining on vocals for the swaying, horn-soaked R&B “What Are We Fighting For” and Piedmont guitar on the closing “Me and the Devil Blues” (Robert Johnson).
A gritty, tough “Ain’t Gotta Prove Nothing” and funky, playful “That Darn Cat” (again featuring Barber) round out the set, which is filled with some impressive lead vocals and guitar from Evanochko as well as tight playing from The Regulators and their various guests (including a mighty fine horn section), with special kudos to keyboardist Ublai Bey, who particularly shines on songs like “Who”, “Slender Man Blues”, “Ain’t Gotta Prove Nothing” and “Saturday Night”.
Needless to say, I Can’t Change is one well worth checking out. With music like this, it’s just a matter of time before this Billy the Kid & The Regulators end up among America’s “most wanted”.