Described by critics as “surreal, modern folk tales” (VILLAGE VOICE), Dudley’s performance art told stories about strange, haunted characters, usually the social rejects who congregated in New York’s East Village during the 1980s. The pieces were told in an evangelical mixture of text and song, much like a southern “tent-revival meeting,” but with the aggressive surrealism William Burroughs. As the years passed, his Jeff Buckley-like voice and emotive folk melodies began to attract a non-art-world audience.
Dudley recorded his debut, RESTORE, for Fang Records in the mid-90’s, with art-funk artist Chris Cochrane producing. The sound, subject matter and feel was a precursor to the as-yet-undefined “New Weird America” or “Freak Folk” category, moving from surreal acappella songs like BY THE WATERS OF BABYLON I DROVE MY CAR (detailing, in quasi-Biblical terms, a man’s descent into dementia, blindness and death) to driving Neil-Youngish country songs like GUTTER BROKE (about a woman losing her mind in a rainswept truckstop). Reviews were strong but Fang Records lost its distributor just before release, keeping RESTORE largely under the radar (although it received a GLAMA nomination for “Best Debut Recording”).
Together, Cochrane and Saunders also recorded a band record as SUCK PRETTY for Knitting Factory Works. All those songs were written by Cochrane and the band broke up.
Midway through his second album, Dudley abruptly moved to California and started to re-record the songs all over again. These tracks slowly made their way out on Fang as THE BILLY WHITE ACRE SESSIONS in 2005. The release had a hard time gaining attention, although one track THE UNDOING (EVERY DAY) was included in his addiction-themed documentary, THE PROCESS.
During this same period, Dudley kept exploring his fascination with American characters in other fields, not only THE PROCESS documentary, but also in his collaboration with performance artist Heather Woodbury. They worked on two epic multi-character pieces, the ten-hour WHAT EVER (parts of which were featured on Ira Glass’ THIS AMERICAN LIFE) and the merely six-hour TALE OF 2CITIES: AN AMERICAN JOYRIDE ON MULTIPLE TRACKS, which went on to win an Obie Award in 2007. Both were published in book form by Faber & Faber and Semiotexte, respectively.
Afterwards, Dudley recorded his most intricate and disturbing record, THE EMERGENCY LANE, with Duncan Sheik stalwart Milo Decruz as producer and arranger. For the first time, Dudley had access to a number of famous musicians, many of whom came out of the bands of MARIANNE FAITHFULL, DAVID BOWIE, SUZANNE VEGA, RUFUS WAINWRIGHT and LEONARD COHEN. Like a lot of independent releases, it had little coverage in the print press, but ended up a favorite among music bloggers and online publications. It was featured on several “Ten Best” lists and, in December 2009, won “Best Album” at the Outmusic Awards.
His fourth album MONSTERS, is scheduled for release in October 2012 on his newly formed label, Strange Troubadours. Produced by Ed Tree, the album features six songs inspired by the novels of William Gibson, Mary Gaitskill, Martin Amis, Sarah Schulman, Sharyn McCrumb - and one by Saunders himself (forthcoming).
Edited by DudleySaunders on 19 Jun 2012, 06:01
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