We’ve all learned to sit still within ourselves in 2020–many would say against our will. Forces outside of ourselves seem like the starting place for the debut release of this project whose namesake is the protagonist in Graham Greene’s 1951 novel The End of the Affair. Bendrix Littleton’s Deep Dark South via NNA Tapes haunts the hallways of the songwriter’s introspection, filtered through the classic novel’s framework of guilt, desire, excess, and miracles.
Dallas transplant and folk musician Bennett Littlejohn crafts a fascinating tale over the course of ten tracks. Formerly part of the duo Bent Denim which disbanded in 2018, this record pointed Littlejohn in a new direction musically. Through the project’s narrator, the songwriter found the freedom to embrace more experimental textures and soundscapes. Stepping into character as Maurice Bendrix, a new creative aesthetic was born out of Greene’s story of World War II love, infidelity, death, and forgiveness during the bombing of London. Littlejohn recorded and mixed all the tracks, with mastering by Edsel Holden; restrained, haunting subtleties roar throughout this record with stunning clarity.
Bendrix Littleton admits to finding creative freedom through the classic narrative, giving the artist permission to experiment texturally. Sonically nuanced, many of this album’s moments could be seen as a dark, drunken depression on too much Tennessee whiskey. Opening with Evan Scala’s drums on “Church Choir” is misleading, a skillful sonic sleight of hand. “smoke” firmly entrenches the songwriter’s narrative, as this beautiful little ditty trips away into loneliness. The title track plods here, and it would seem “Deep Dark South” should be ominous. Masterfully recorded, the hollow echo captures that disconnected feeling of being alone we all might have felt at one time or another. Set to acoustic guitar and piano, Littleton’s dance is nothing short of a genius journey of self-discovery.
The novel The End of the Affair gave birth to multiple films, as the themes of aching love, inadequacy, jealousy, and death transport themselves into any time. Littleton’s Dark South is a whole entity just as a film might be, though there are standout moments. “Carry These Things” is layered in purposefully-delivered metaphor, opening with an almost whiny lyrical delivery as the wander begins. We all collect memories, life’s dredges that somehow we can’t leave behind. This track is perfect.
As the journey of this record reaches the end, “Wine” may be the best of the record. Deep, velvety, rich vocals draw the listener in, with a simple pillow-talk backline keeping the mood steady. Do people need to know the story that inspired Bendrix Littleton, or has his art transcended the confines of the old narrative, evolving into something satisfying and new? Oddly, many of the most impactful moments on this record are in the transition from each part of the narrative. With background vocals throughout from Sara Beth Go, “Boredom” seems an homage to 2020. Ultimately, Bendrix Littleton’s Deep Dark South via NNA Tapes is a stroke of artistic genius that rises from the ashes of this past year.–Lisa Whealy