I may be just a little bit biased, but I think that, over the years, the city of Pittsburgh, Pa., has generated some of the best regional blues bands in the country.
I’m biased because the Pittsburgh area is where I was born, grew up (some might disagree), found my blue genes with legendary ‘Burgh DJ Porky Chedwick, and worked for many years.
I’ve also heard a lot of blues bands from the region, and today’s focus, Billy Evanochko, working as Billy the Kid and the Regulators (that’s right, just like the outlaw), is one of the best.
On “It Is What It Is,” his third and brand new album, Evanochko departs a little from his traditional heavy-duty blues work with some social commentary on several original songs.
Evanochko has been paying attention to the social and political upheaval that has defined 2020, and he opens the album with three hard-hitting personal statements, wrapped in some finely crafted music.
Disillusionment, with the hope of redemption, is a primary theme.
In a recent interview with Scott Mervis of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Evanochko explains the origins of one of those songs, “Fall So Hard,” written immediately after hearing the news about the killing of George Floyd.
“All these years,” he says, “we’re all taught with this ideal to help your fellow man and be a good American. I’m also a veteran, so being a good American to me is whether you’re black, white, brown, red, yellow, whatever race, creed, you take care of each other. And that’s what that song is about.”
The funky title track is a similar adventure, describing how “Social media and corporate greed keep us blinded by the light…“ and then “…if we don’t stand and fight we’re just pawns in the game….”
The third original, “I Can’t Help Myself,” which kicks off with some soaring horns, is an ode to personal truth “…have to do what’s best for me, they’re gonna talk about me anyway….”
Then the Regulators take on a series of fine covers, ranging from The Rolling Stones’ “I Got the Blues” to Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People“ to “House Party,” from the J. Geils Band.
Billy told me in an email: “I set out to make a good record not a blues record. My goal was to do a CD with a combination of new original material and choice covers that would start-to-finish tell a story, but more importantly, have a message.
“Making this CD was good for my soul. Joe Munroe was so great to work with as a producer. He let me be me but got me to try stuff I normally probably wouldn’t have.”
And that formula, or lack of formula, paid off. It all holds together with the crackling band of Regulators, featuring Evanochko’s fierce guitar. He’s comfortable with a tough blues, some funk, or a flat-out rocker. And he tops it all off with gritty vocal chops
The Regulators are Derek Redd, Ben Davis, John Bartholomay, Jake Werkmeister, Ublai Bey and Larry Estes. The album was produced by Studio Joe in Center Township, Pa., run by Joe Munroe.
This isn’t just another blues band making just another album. It’s a furiously proud musical statement.