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Madison, Wisconsin, United States | INDIE

Madison, Wisconsin, United States | INDIE
Band Americana Folk


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"September 29, 2009 - Local Sounds Magazine, Madison WI"

After three albums, the music of calicoDrifters hasn’t strayed from their signature sound; melancholy, minimalist folk with touches of jazz and blues. The music is still the creation of Thomas Burns and is performed by himself along with vocalist Sue Prodell. On rare occasion they’ll add drums played by Mark Goad. The formula is a winning one as it suits the forlorn nature of the songs.

Far too little attention gets paid to the lyrical aspects of music, especially the poetic in contrast to the outrageous. For calicoDrifters, however, it’s all about the emotion, the feel and the words. This collection seems to have a loose theme about it – going somewhere. Whether it’s the indecision portrayed in “Leading Me Home,” the sadly gorgeous opener that showcases Prodell’s aching, self-harmonized vocals; the mischievous user running out in “My Heart’s in Pieces;” or even the reflections on a wedding day in “Only One.” There is an awful lot of uncertainty in the songs, some regret and, in the album closer “Between Us Now,” some bitterness. But the sorrow hits home the hardest in the beautifully homesick “Turning Home,” sung by Burns with harmonies by Prodell. Here the finger-picked guitars resonate sweetly with the poetry.

It’s interesting the way Burns is able to write without gender; you never know if it’s coming from the male or female perspective. The two sound great when singing together, though it’s Prodell doing the harmonizing, either with herself or with Burns when he’s taking the lead, but not the other way around.

The band is not without some humor however, as is the case in “I’ve Got a Man,” the one instance in which gender does come into play. “We met one day outside his trailer / And he asked my name, I had to lie / Then he told me he was Norman Mailer / But his prose style didn’t match that guy” is one of the best stanzas on the album although, to be fair, the album is full of great lyrics. It’s ultimately a tale of resignation, however as she sings, “I don’t fear the night or shrink from its shadow / And I don’t mind a little rain.”

“Right Past the End” is another highlight, the dissonance underscoring the finalization of love with another great line: “My heart was like a shipwreck / And yours the coast of Maine.” Sad and haunting, Burns underscores the lonesome guitar with restrained bits of piano, accentuating the inventive chord progression.

There are jazzy moments as well, the lounge-y “Alone and Still in Love” and the more dissonant “My Heart’s in Pieces.” In this way they are able to demonstrate how similar lyrical lines can take on a completely different ambiance depending on the style in which they are presented.

“Thirteen Crosses” is a storytelling folk song that chronicles the Mann Gulch Tragedy of 1949, in which thirteen Forest Service firefighters died in a Montana blaze, an event that changed the way forest fires are fought. Although it’s a departure from the relationships expressed throughout the rest of Turning Home, it’s just as desperate and tragic. Nowhere does Burns indicate the historical nature of the subject matter, but one who listens closely will want to know more. This is perhaps the ultimate achievement for a writer; to know that his words are being heard and do indeed elicit a response, intellectual or emotional. - Rick Tvedt - Rick Tvedt

"August 21, 2009 - Isthmus, Madison WI"

This Madison duo's third release is a set of down-tempo acoustic love songs rooted in jazz, blues and folk. The CD thrives on the marriage of Thomas Burns' delicate and reflective songwriting and Sue Prodell's emotional vocals.

The best songs include an element of mystery. "Right Past the End" uses eerie minor chords to describe a relationship that carries on with post-mortem strangeness after its own demise. "Lead Me Home" reveals an inexplicable incapacity to steer a relationship.

The album satisfies as a bittersweet love letter that, despite its title, is never sure which turn leads home.
- Rich Albertoni - Rich Albertoni

"November 13, 2009 - 77 Square/Associated Press, Wisconsin State Journal, Madison WI"

The opening lines of this warm, engaging third release by local folk duo calicoDrifters set up and sum up the tone of the entire album: "At the corner of Friday night's kisses/And Saturday's early regret."

Thomas Burns' lyrics weigh like a yoke with their heavy implications, yet sit comfortably with a quiet sense of love and loyalty. He and Sue Prodell trade off lead vocals as if they're taking turns telling each other an old story. Burns sharpens these stories with a tight lyrical focus and details that expand in their specificity. He's also got an ear for humor ("I've got a man in New York City/Though to be fair, it's South St. Paul").

The bittersweet tone courses smoothly until the surprisingly sour but punchy final track about "the revulsion that's between us now." It's a jarring sentiment, but it fits within the album's overall theme - a life-embracing, "this too shall pass" acceptance. - Katjusa Cisar - Katjusa Cisar

"August 25, 2006 - Isthmus, Madison WI"

In reference to Dreams Are The Ponies We Ride, "Madison's Calico Drifters (okay, technically the trio are from Mount Horeb, Middleton and Fredonia, but try to convey that in a press packet) make acoustic Americana noted for the strength of its vocals. Thomas Burns and Sue Prodell turn many of these songs into duets, a strategy that matches his country singing style against her more wide-ranging influences of folk and blues.

What's most impressive is the detailed songwriting: Here is the rare example of local country-influenced musicians writing original, fresh and authentic songs. "Don't Come Down Here" is the tale of abandoned institutions and lost innocence with words that reach out and connect. The Calico Drifters are a welcome and promising new addition to Madison music." - Rich Albertoni

"September 2006 - Rick's Cafe, Madison WI"

In a year filled with numerous outstanding local CD releases, along comes another, an album that is equally winsome and poignant. Dreams are the Ponies We Ride is hauntingly sparse, conjouring images of rural American landscapes, wide-open places and people scarred by life's tribulation, and the music creates its own overtones of wisdom and pain, insight and sadness. With only a few guitar tracks - sometimes acoustic, sometimes resophonic, and frequently both - and the vocal tandem of Thomas Burns and Sue Prodell, calicoDrifters deliver timeless tunes that flow with the ease of folk classics. Kevin McConeghey is the only guest, contributing lonesome harmonica on one track.

If Burns' voice seems to possess a bit of Southern drawl, you'd be right. Raised in Kentucky, Burns spent time on the East and West Coasts as well as Tennessee before relocating to Wisconsin a few years back. Prodell, a Fredonia, Wisconsin native, has been singing for some twenty years and it shows. Just listen to the beautiful phrasing on "My Prairie Home", "On Clinton Street" and "How Do You Watch a Moving Train", where her alto sneaks in barely noticed. She takes the lead on several songs as well. "Old Ragtop" is a minor-key, blues-inflected tale of abandonment and features the only electric guitar on the album. "Siren Call" is a similar sea-widow's lament.

"Cardboard Box" is even more morose: "Misfortune is my closest enemy", Prodell sings in a voice completely unadorned, the full emotional effect coming straight from the gut. "If I could store happy memories in a brown cardboard box / I'd be left holding nothing but the dreams that I lost." But nothing can eclipse the mournfully beautiful title track. Burns' subtle chord voicings are perfectly matched to Prodell's achingly melodic vocal and when she harmonizes with herself on the chorus it's magical. The lyrics to "Dreams Are the Ponies We Ride" were co-authored by flow-poet Adam Gregory Pergament, former member of Stonefloat and the force behind the Chime Collective series at the Center for Creative and Cultural Arts. The pairing seems unlikely but the result is pure poetry.

The whole album is delivered in the same austere, no-frills fashion. The album was recorded at engine-engine Productions in Mt. Horeb but that could just as easily be Burns' living room. That would be fitting, since the entire record has an aura of authenticity to it.

Burns composed the rest of the tracks on Dreams and assumes the lead on most of them. His voice is reminiscent in some ways of John Prine, a little bit of Dylan and maybe some Leon Redbone. He's a versatile fingerpicker but it's his choice of passing tones and the way he brings just a smidgeon of jazz to the proceedings that makes his playing so endearing.

I would highly recommend this recording to anyone who appreciates traditional folk styles and the pastoral form of Americana music. - Rick Tvedt

"February 2007 - Roots Music Review"

"calicodrifters' CD, “Dreams Are the Ponies We Ride”, is some of the best folk music to come along in a long while. Folk music comes in many different varieties; but the kind that calicoDrifters plays is the kind that conjures up lasting, vivid images and remains with the listener well after the song is over.
The original tracks are lyrically well-crafted and extremely well sung. Thomas Burns and Sue Prodell combine extraordinary harmonies and strong, rich vocals to treat the listener to some truly awesome music. And his folk music has a boldness to it that mixes some jazz, blues and Americana.

The stories they tell strike at the heart. Their heartfelt tales are relatable, thoughtful and thought-provoking. Those tunes play with your emotions sometimes with a cheery air and at other times with an essence that is touching and somber." - Herb Barbee

"June 2009 - Press release for Turning Home"

May 15, 2009 (Madison, WI) – Engine-Engine Productions and calicoDrifters are pleased to announce the release of their new album, ‘Turning Home’. This group of ten songs shows the band’s blues and jazz influences while firmly establishing their folk and singer-songwriter roots. Nearly two years in the making, ‘Turning Home’, their third CD, is well worth the wait. Thomas Burns and Sue Prodell have put together a collection of songs that move from one to the other seamlessly and as a whole while allowing each piece to stand on its own. ‘Turning Home’ is crafted for the listener wanting to hear an entire album from start to finish as well as the one who wants to cherry-pick songs to shuffle on an iPod.

These songs are at once gentle and spare like the beautiful folk song “Only One”, a love song for a wedding day; and fierce and edgy like the bluesy “Between Us Now” which reflects on what constitutes the remains of a failed relationship. The CD opens with “Leading Me Home”, whose protagonist recognizes the gaps between stimulus and response, but doesn’t seem able to pause long enough to make the better decision. Here Prodell’s soaring vocals show off her pop and blues sensibilities as she pulls the listener in and sets the stage for what’s to come – and she doesn’t disappoint. She follows this up with whimsy and matter-of-fact humor in “I’ve Got A Man”, which tells the story of a restless character constantly on the move. In typical fashion, Burns plays both an old-time steel slide guitar and resonator accompaniment to complement Prodell’s self-possessed vocals. The jazz-inspired love song “Alone And Still In Love” and the heartbreak break-up song “My Heart’s In Pieces” maintain calicoDrifters’ signature roots sound framed in jazz standard stylings and arrangements.

‘Turning Home’ is a calicoDrifters showcase of song-writing and presentation. Burns and Prodell tell engaging stories within great roots music. Here they are at the top of their game as they demonstrate that their song-writing craft and delivery are better than ever.
- calicoDrifters

"December 21, 2007 - Isthmus, Madison WI"

"With Takin' on the Rain, Madison's Calico Drifters
deliver another easily digested collection of
high-lonesome folk-rock and Americana. In fact, even
when he's singing about stealing a car in Tennessee
and doing a bleak wintertime stretch in the Saskatoon
jail on the brooding title track, lead male singer
Thomas Burns comes across as one of the most
reflective ruffians you'd ever want to meet.

That's not a failing, though. Burns and the Drifters'
considerably more countrified female singer, Sue
Prodell, may be anything but gritty performers, but
they manage to catch the subtleties of a troubled mind
and the flickering warmth of a temporary love with
real grace. If I have one complaint, it's that Burns
sometimes works too hard at emulating the portentous,
deep-voiced Dylan of the mid-'70s. But when he
harmonizes with Prodell on the honeysuckle-sweet
refrain of "Somebody's Beautiful Baby," it's easy to
forgive him for overreaching." - Tom Alesia


Turning Home (LP) June 2009
Takin' On The Rain (LP) November 2007
Dreams Are The Ponies We Ride (LP) July 2006



Based in Madison, Wisconsin, calicoDrifters is an acoustic duo comprised of Thomas Burns and Sue Prodell. Thomas has been singing and playing fingerstyle, flatpick style, and rhythm acoustic guitar for over 20 years. He has played professionally on both coasts of the United States and numerous venues in between. Sue has been singing and writing music for over 20 years. In addition to playing mandolin, she enjoys connecting with audience members through her soulful vocal artistry.

Since 2005, Thomas and Sue have performed at venues such as the Olbrich Gardens Summer and Winter Concert Series, Mount Horeb Art Fair, Mount Horeb Fall Heritage Festival, The Brink Lounge, The Grumpy Troll, Cambridge Pottery Festival, Café Montmartre, Wild Hog In The Woods Coffeehouse, and a number of house concerts, weddings, and other private events. They played monthly at Fyfe’s Bistro, before it closed in 2007.

They've also performed twice on Bill Malone's Back To The Country on WORT 89.9 FM, Live From Triple M in the WMMM studio, and on the evening news on WB57. In addition, several of their songs have been featured on NPR's Open Mic, WCUW's Pastures of Plenty in Worcester, Mass., GidaFolk Net Radio, the Online Folk Festival, and KPFK's FolkScene in Los Angeles, Calif.

Here's a live version of For All Of Your Style performed by calicoDrifters; words and music by Thomas Burns: