Best Albums You’ve Never Heard Of: David Duchovny #HellOrHighwater
A while back I wrote a piece on Robert Downey Jr’s 2004 foray into the music scene: “The Futurist“. I enjoyed its blunt honesty and sincere delivery from the acclaimed thespian, as well as the jazz/pop standard stylings of the music. During that time, I had heard that David Duchovny had recorded an album as well, but just stored that little nugget away for a later date. A week ago, I finally listened to a couple of the tracks from Duchovny’s debut release “Hell or Highwater” and came away rather impressed. I took the plunge, made the purchase and have been happily listening ever since.
At its heart, “Hell or Highwater” is a fairly straightforward roots rock album. Not overly produced, dolled up or otherwise (nor unnecessarily) modified, it is a “what you hear is what you get” kind of LP, and frankly that’s a good thing. Released on May 12th, 2015, in-between a novel that he has written and a new TV series for NBC, Aquarius (as well as an X-Files miniseries at Fox), Duchovny has managed to stay exceptionally busy these days. One wonders where he finds the time, but then I’ve always maintained that we find time for the things that we really want to accomplish. The instrumentation itself seems like it fits somewhere between early Wilco recordings and Tom Petty, possibly even some of the bluesier mellow tracks performed by Cracker. This is dirty bar music, which sounds like it would be perfectly at home at your favorite billiards hall, however; it is versatile enough that it’s great to listen to at home whilst relaxing as well.
One of the first things that struck me was the timbre of Duchovny’s voice. It’s much deeper and more soulful than I would have expected, yet once the first tune, “Let it Rain”, starts – his dark and dulcet crooning immediately draws you in. He puts forth a valiant effort, and though his vocal confidence is not shared equally among all of the tracks, it is clear that his heart is 100% in it. Finding one’s true voice, especially in the tricky realm of a singer/songwriter, is a long process that can take many years and a lot of trial and error before full confidence can be achieved. My understanding is that Duchovny just picked up playing guitar about 2 years ago, and has been writing original tunes for shorter than that. To put this in perspective think of this: if Marc Bolan of T. Rex had stopped singing after 2 years of recording, we would have never heard the glorious majesty of “Electric Warrior” – which is to date one of the single greatest rock albums ever recorded. If Duchovny is truly interested in pursuing his passion in music, he should continue recording and mixing new tracks and then he will certainly develop his own rhythm and sound replete with full confidence.
The lyrics range from clever to cliché, however I assume that most of the delivery was fully intentional. “Love is all you need that’s what the book of John taught you,” from the song The Rain Song is clearly a reference to John Lennon. Subtle like that though they may be, there are pop culture references all over his tracks. There is a certain amount of irony and duplicity in what he is trying to convey, and there are a broad amount of topics here: commercialism, religion, relationships, social media – to name but a few of the ideas that he lyrically tackles. Perhaps, what I find most emergent and endearing in his lyrics is a constant push to move forward. In the title track, “Hell or Highwater” he sings, “I could try to erase the past of pain, but honestly baby, who has that kinda time?” And other similar nuggets are littered throughout the album, and it appears as if he is really ready to move forward with the next chapter of his life. As with all humans, he’s had his fair share of ups and downs and judging by his lyrics he’s more than ready to finish processing the past and move on. More than anything, it’s sound advice to anybody who feels downtrodden or shackled by issues they’ve endured and with the decisions that they have made – accept that it happened, learn from it, and move on.
I think that one of the main reasons I feel confident in recommending this album is purely because it is highly relatable, almost in the same way that a Bruce Springsteen album is. He sings about the unique, the mundane, and about the specific nuances of everyday ordinary life. “Positively Madison Avenue” appears to be a track about where the line is drawn between integrity and selling out, citing the fact that Bob Dylan made a Superbowl commercial for Chrysler, effectively becoming a car salesman. “3000” is a song dealing with the psychological strain of separating from a lover, to the point of questioning what either side is fighting for. “Stars” deals poignantly with the aftermath of a failed love, and the spark that still exists after the initial connection has been severed. All of the songs are centered around premises that you can understand and ultimately are not too dissimilar to experiences that you may have had in your life. In the grand scheme of things, the Who’s “Quadrophenia” and the Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” are undeniable classics of rock music, and I enjoy them much like anybody else, but the albums that I truly love are the ones I feel a kindred connection to. Paul Simon’s “Graceland”, Luna’s “Days of Our Nights”, and Wilco’s “Summerteeth” are a few of my personally selected classics that I listen to repeatedly, because they meld so seamlessly into my life and into my thought process. I hold David Duchovny’s album “Hell or Highwater” in the same regard as the aforementioned personal classics that I love to listen to again, and again, and again. It’s an exceptionally relaxed and comfortable album that feels good, kinda like wearing your favorite jacket or having a drink with your friends/family after work. It just feels right. Check out the tracks that I’ve included with this review and decide for yourself.
If I had one little tiny suggestion/comment that I would make for any potential follow up album, it would be to throw a couple rockers in there. Let you hair down David, find a few power chords you’re happy with and up the tempo a bit. Have some fun with it. Channel the Kinks a bit if you need to, but find a way to work in a few proper rock standard style tracks in your next album. Also, T. Rex is a good example of where you could go with this. It’s just a suggestion, do what you feel is right.
…and because I cannot stress how amazing Marc Bolan’s early transformation was, please enjoy the glam rock decadence of T. Rex: “(Bang a Gong) Get it On!”