Mark “Porkchop” Holder and MPH boogie down and dirty
It was good news when I first heard that Mark “Porkchop” Holder was coming back to town to stay. He was an exciting musician almost twenty years ago both as a member of the Black Diamond Heavies and as a solo act. As a matter of fact, in the formative years of my own group, we played a regular weekly gig at the Lizard Lounge on the same bill as Holder and Dave Brown (another iconic Chattanooga singer/songwriter) and Mark’s musicianship was already second to none.
With a decade or two of living, travelling and playing between the last time I heard him and now, I expected great things. I expected the man’s work to have aged like wine, finer, smoother and more potent than ever. In truth, Holder is more akin to your granddaddy’s private reserve of moonshine, but the simile stands and I was not disappointed.
Holder had barely hit town before he started gigging again and soon after assembled an all new power trio featuring himself, Doug Bales (another pillar of Chattanooga music) and Travis Kilgore who, despite being the “young fella” in the bunch, is nonetheless a well-loved, respected and seasoned pro. Power trio indeed.
After months of enduring my Bart and Lisa Simpsonesque refrain of, “Have you recorded something yet? Have you recorded something yet? Have you recorded something yet?” it seems that they have indeed recorded something and it is outstanding on every level.
The new group is called Mark “Porkchop” Holder and MPH and the debut LP is Let It Slide. That’s right, I said LP. The plan is for this album to be released on vinyl and as of right now there is a long waiting list due to a dearth of facilities and resurgence in the popularity of the medium. You’re going to have to wait to own a copy (but you can certainly catch a live performance in the meantime.)
I was all set for Let It Slide to be a blistering blues album, that being how I best remembered my old friend, and while blues is certainly at the heart of it, that isn’t quite right as a designation. In their own words the boys describe their music as, “boogie, sans bullshit,” and that not only accurately reflects the nature of the album, it captures in three glorious words the essence of the whole band.
Boogie, sans bullshit. Dirty roadhouse music. Juke Joint jamming. Swamp rock. Too rock for blues, too blues for rock, the music is hungry, hard and mean. Much of Holder’s guitar work reminds me of Billy Gibbons, a man Jimi Hendrix once described as “one of the best guitarists in America.”
One wonders whether Mark “plays” the guitar so much as he wrings its neck until it pours forth scorching riffs (to be clear, Mark Holder flat plays the hell out of a guitar, but it isn’t hard to imagine that he gets the tone he wants from his amp by scowling at it.)
Doug Bales demonstrates for the nth time why he is one of the area’s most respected drummers and Travis Kilgore…there are a lot of very hardworking musicians in this town, but I don’t know any who work as hard or grin as big as this loveable sasquatch of a bass player. I don’t need to point out his skill and versatility, his reputation speaks for itself.
The album is just sweat and guts and soul. “My Black Name” is a driving, rock/blues hybrid that demonstrates Holder’s vocal skills as the perfect match for his guitar playing while “Let it Slide” is some very slippery, satisfying, old school blues that highlights his superb harp blowing skills. The album’s version of “Stagger Lee” is my favorite since Nick Cave’s cover back in the mid-nineties.
“Stranger” is a sort of rockabilly-noir piece in which Mark’s voice takes on some Johnny Cash characteristics and “Baby Please Don’t Go” is a white-hot ball of energy, a wall of blues-infused mayhem that goes to eleven and then some. All in all there are nine tracks on the album, each one a testament to the undeniable credentials of the band and its leader, an old rocker and bluesman who walks the walk, talks the talk, and sure as hell has lived the life.
Stay tuned to this channel for updates on when the album will be available and in the meantime stop by and check out the powerhouse in person this Saturday, July 16th at the 30th anniversary block party thrown by Las Margaritas on Hixson Pike (next to Tremont Tavern) from 7 to 11 p.m.
It would be entirely remiss to sing the praises of the band on this album without a nod to the folks who helped make it possible. The collection was recorded at Tiny Buzz studios, where it was produced and engineered by Mike Pack. The album was mixed by Dave Barbe at Chase Park Transduction Studios in Athens, GA. Guest artists include Matt Bohannon on pedal steel and Heather Kilgore on backing vocals.