Dudley Saunders is a trans-disciplinary artist whose work explores the hidden lives of marginalized people in: performance art, video, fiction, documentary film and experimental folk music.
The Kentucky native first began performing his “surreal, modern folk tales” (Village Voice) to downtown New York audiences in the late 80s. He is best known for his four music albums RESTORE, THE BILLY WHITE ACRE SESSIONS, THE EMERGENCY LANE and the recent MONSTERS.
He has received writing fellowships from Yaddo, The Edward Albee Foundation and the Atlantic Center for the Arts, as well as grants from the Joyce Mertz-Gilmore Foundation and Meet The Composers. He has contributed fiction to The Kenyon Review and journalism to such magazines as The Village Voice, Interview and Rolling Stone.
He has also written and performed four evening-length performance art pieces, SECOND SLEEP (The Pyramid Club, 1990), THE LONG SWALLOWED HAIR (OR FAGGOT SKIN) (The Kitchen, 1992), BIRDBONES (The Kitchen, 1994) and DEATH BLUES (Dixon Place, 1995), which New York Press selected as Best Musical of the Year.
He has twice collaborated with Heather Woodbury on the award-winning, multi-evening epics WHAT EVER and TALE OF 2CITIES, the latter of which received an OBIE Award for Ensemble Performance. Recently, he directed and dramaturged John Kelly’s THE ESCAPE ARTIST at PS122 (2011) and performed in Chris Rael’s ARABY at Dixon Place (2009).
Other recent awards include the 2009 Outmusic Award for Best Album and the 2011 Mountain Stage NewSong Contest for the Western Region.
In film and video, he won the Aurora and Prism Awards for his 2002 documentary THE PROCESS, and the 2012 Promax Gold Award for his public TV interstitial series MORE: THE REAL CREATURES OF PRIMEVAL. He currently lives and works in Los Angeles.
“His writing and his performance have a kind of hallucinatory power so forceful that one admires him for surviving it.” THE NEW YORK TIMES.
“Before Dudley Saunders embarked on a career in art-washed Americana, he was a performance artist, which may go a long way toward explaining the dramatic and visually rich tone of his third album, THE EMERGENCY LANE. There is a natural tendency to draw parallels between Saunders and ‘Hissing of Summer Lawns’-era Joni Mitchell, as Saunders’ wire walk between the simplicity of folk and the complexity of jazz, exhibited both musically and lyrically, mirrors Mitchell’s own creative explorations, particularly on dissonantly melodic pieces like “Mushy-Headed Kid” and the disquieting “Love Song for Jeffrey Dahmer.” Saunders is a masterful storyteller, and his eye for detail and ear for a well-crafted phrase puts him in Bruce Springsteen/Leonard Cohen/Tom Waits territory, while his tightly coiled vibrato leans toward Chris Isaak and Lyle Lovett. Musically, Saunders runs the gamut from impassioned hush (“The Rain on 8th Avenue”) to manic howl (“Side of Sane”), without ever forgetting the seductive power that links the two. On THE EMERGENCY LANE, Saunders strikes a subtle yet clearly defined balance between the surreal and the mundane, between dramatic and histrionic, between haunted and haunting, while maintaining a well grounded foot in each camp.” Brian Baker, AMPLIFIER
“Indie-rocker Dudley Saunders writes ‘postmodern’ folk songs with the haunting imagery of classic Joni Mitchell, the vocal purity of Jeff Buckley, and a lyrical canvas that screams Cat Power. On his affecting new CD, THE EMERGENCY LANE, Saunders collaborates with an impressive roster of artists, including players from the bands of Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Rufus Wainwright, and Beck. While he trips to dark places, Saunders’ music is less about surviving love and life and more about the journey. Tonight, the illuminating artist previews new songs at the ever-intimate Hotel Cafe.” J.H., FLAVORPILL
“Dudley Saunders started as a New York City performance artist, but the music he created for his act took on a life of its own, and now he’s a recording artist with three CDs under his belt. This, his latest, is the first I’ve had a chance to hear, and it bears out some of the flattering words Saunders has gotten in the mainstream press. His voice has a tight quaver and a lot of focused power, like Jeff Buckley’s. I didn’t like Jeff Buckley – he always seemed to me a great voice in search of something to sing (I did like him when he sang covers) – but I do like a lot of Saunders’s material here. A cross between modern folk and art song, it has a timeless quality, a soothing sound partially masking a humming tension. His voice is a finely tuned, subtle instrument, and his images flow like water:
“buck-tooth call-girls on the corner like red-haired roses in the rain dropped off by a drunken mourner on the wrong grave like a train that old west bandits disconnected from the engines and left scattered ‘cross the tracks their vaults dissected hoping that guy’s looking at her”
See the way he snaps you back to the scene at hand with that last line, like an actor with an audience in his hand. And then there’s “Love Song for Jeffrey Dahmer.” The visceral lyrics of these songs sometimes remind me of Leonard Cohen: “take me back home / ’cause you’re the only rider / on the highway in my bones,” Saunders sings in “Take Me Back Home Again.” Jon Sobel., BLOGCRITICS.ORG
“I received Dudley Saunders album The Emergency Lane in the mail a couple of days ago, and I can, with all honesty say, that he is the most outrageous singer/songwriter I have ever come across. I mean, with lyrics like “buck tooth call girls on the corner”, you just can’t go wrong.
There’s a track on the album called Love Song For Jeffery Dahmer, if you just listen to the rhythm of the music, it’s a beautiful song but the lyrics are pretty twisted and surreal. I read on Dudley Saunders’ bio sheet where a critic said his music was “Eerie, yet emotionally powerful”, that would pretty much sum him up, but I would also add that it is very real. His songs paint a picture of the dirty, grimy side of urban life.
When I first started listening to the CD I didn’t think I would like it, his style of singing reminds me a lot of Jethro Tull, and I’m not a fan of Jethro Tull. But having heard the album now, I would recommend it to anybody that wants something real and gritty and evocative of what the dark side of life is sometimes about. For me, the album will be in my CD player for a while. LITHIUMRADIO.ORG
“This is a scary beautiful dream, the images float past and disturb, the world is slow motion here the colours are bruised rubbing into each other, chalk in the rain on city streets, sometime just before the morning.
This is a haunting love story, the characters are wounded and bear the weight of Love in all its fierce brutality.
This is a collection of songs about the people behind locked doors, or hidden in crowds or just out of sight.
Dudley Saunders though sees it all, them all. The world, the flaws and the wonder.
A mix of subtle rock frenzy and cinematic orchestra, the faces the bodies, swoop past, the lyrics sink in the mind slow and sweet and the voice, Saunders not so secret weapon, hooks us so we cannot turn away.
A contender for one of the NBT albums of the year. This CD slow burns harsh comfort and strange desires.
It seems the second it is played, that, it has ALWAYS been there.
Brilliant.” THE NEXT BIG THING REVIEW
“Dudley Saunders is a bit of the Americana you crave. The performance artist turned singer-songwriter delivered his third album THE EMERGENCY LANE, in 2007. It is a tuneful experience with great writing, great singing, and some of the best rock arrangements you’ll likely hear for some time. Dudley Saunders sounds like Gordon Lightfoot and John Mayer’s voices were somehow melded into a new instrument. It’s a pleasant and yet somehow unsettling combination that is interesting and richly textured. His songwriting is complex and little bit out of the ordinary. Look For Me is an interesting opening, and leads into Love Song For Jeffrey Dahmer, which is either woefully sick or darkly hilarious, depending on your perspective. My personal favorite here is The Rain On 8th Avenue, which is kind of like a street scene set to music. Dudley Saunders displays an incredible ability to create mental images from his lyrics and music. Unlike many artists, the music Saunders composes supports and enhances the lyrics like shading and fine detail bring out the subject in a work of art. Saunders also displays a sharp wit, ala Lyle Lovett or Randy Newman. Bad Driver and Mushy-Headed Kid play to this aspect of his musical personality. The arrangements are sparse and starkly beautiful on The Emergency Lane. The intermixing of serious subject matter with witty observation over the course of a long career could carve out a niche similar to those maintained by the aforementioned Newman and Lovett. There’s a little bit of Mark Twain in Dudley Saunders, and a whole lot of wonderful music.” Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5) WILDY’S WORLD
“Dudley Saunders more closely resembles Jacques Brel or Edith Piaf than a modern singer/songwriter. That’s not to say that his songs sound old fashioned- how could something titled “Love Song for Jeffrey Dahmer” be anything but thoroughly modern? No, it’s the delicate precision with which each piece is drawn, the detailed look at a moment in time that remind me of Brel & Piaf. Additionally, the arrangements are equally delicate and precise. Saunders’ quitar is lent substance by a seven piece band that includes unique instrumental touches from harmonium, strings, mandolin & dobro. Special mention must be given to producer/arranger Milo Decruz. He is completely in tune with Saunders and draws out the best qualities of each song. Saunders is extremely talented. I look forward to his future releases. NEVER ENDING WONDER
“I’m not familiar with Dudley Saunders, and after listening to THE EMERGENCY LANE, his third album, I’m surprised that’s the case. Simply put, the guy’s got talent in spades. He’s an appealing singer, with David Crosby’s vocal tone and Jeff Buckley’s soaring cadences, and a strong songwriter and arranger, with tunes boasting memorable melodies and lush, folk-pop textures. Plus he’s a smart guy with an unflinching eye on politics, artistic freedom, romance and a life lived underground. The sound of these songs is so beautifully seductive you’ll notice too late that you’re swaying dreamily to a song called ‘Love Song for Jeffrey Dahmer’ or ‘Jesus Didn’t Love Us Enough.’ It’s not all caustic wit, though, as Saunders saves some of his most affecting performances for more poetic tunes like ‘Seventeen’ and the a cappella ‘The Wagoner’s Lad.’ Nice.” Michael Toland, HIGH BIAS
Everything about Dudley Saunders is off, sometimes a good deal so, from that enticing voice to the unorthodox rhythms, colors, and atmospheres that then slip sideways into a set of lyrics frequently raw and disturbing. Don’t be fooled by the hypnotically shimmering vocal refrains and interlocking guitar chords … Saunders is exploring the darker corners of the psyche and culture with a set and grim death’s-head grin, a psychologist’s fascination for the aberrant in deceptively firm resolve, nostrils flaring. The lovely chamber strings and lamentive minor chords? They’re meant to lure you into the composer’s webwork of madness, seamy side streets, subtle transgressions, and forever menacing shadows with their smackling lurkers…
There’s a good deal of John Cale’s gentleman lunacy here, a poetic line spilling the borders of Keith Reid over into an urban Jean-Paul Marat by way of Krafft-Ebbing, John Rechy, and William Burroughs. The listener who becomes captivated by the gauzy textures of Saunders’ musicianship quickly finds himself walking on broken glass with predators kneeling nearby, waiting…
You’ve never picked up on music quite like this before. Art bearing such a shape and form—imbued with weird and shuddersome insights sticky from the viscid belly of psychotic experience, sometimes even dungeonesque grue—has been tried every once and again but never with such lissomely shocking deception. Trust me, this has rarely ever been done, and THE GUY’S FUCKING BRILLIANT at it.
He may remind you of a Shawn Phillips by way of Tim Buckley and Kenny Loggins, but that shadow over yonder? It hides a chuckling Donatien Alphonse Francois. You know him as the only surviving child of the Comte and Comtesse de Sade, and he’s cackling, holding a curious item. It may well be something you’d rather not see…but you’ll enjoy it anyway, though probably in the dark and uneasily. Mark S. Tucker, FAME (Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange)
“Holy hell. Today my colleague-spotlight is on Dudley Saunders and his song “Love Song for Jeffrey Dahmer”– if not for the sheer balls of its title and lyrical theme. Digging deeper, though, I haven’t heard vocal control or tone like this since Chris Isaak.
And I love irony. The creepiest lyrics I’ve heard in a long while are laid beautifully on tender, carefree orchestration. As Dudley croons his opening line, “I hold your head back by your hair and I spit in your mouth,” you could easily, and unwittingly, be driving fancy-free down the Coast with the top down, unaware of the haunting message.
Also, I love that the guy looks like he’d gag you with menace at the Lure, but sings as smooth as Julio Iglesias. I dig it, dig it, dig it. Derek Nicoletto, TOTBLOG
“On his third CD, Saunders collaborates with players who’ve worked with BOWIE, BECK and RUFUS WAINWRIGHT for AN EMOTIONALLY BEAUTIFUL BATCH OF SONGS. Think Jeff Buckley meets Joni Mitchell.” Paul V., IN LA
“Dudley Saunders is one of the most talented singer/songwriters you will ever stumble across. These are folk songs that are completely outside of the box.” SMOTHER.NET