Nancy McCallion set out early this year to record a solo album centered on America’s flawed immigration system.
But then COVID-19 happened and her social activism songwriting self opened the door for her introspective pandemic songwriting self.
And what started out as a single-issue political statement morphed into one of the Mollys singer-songwriter’s most outspoken, topical album in a career that goes back four decades.
“Go to Ground,” McCallion’s first studio album since 2016’s “Dancing Days,” captures the political, social and personal emotions that McCallion has been feeling for most of 2020.
“I had initially wanted to do an album that was focused solely on immigration, but everything else with COVID came up and I felt they all kind of fit in a way,” said the 56-year-old founder of the popular Tucson Irish-influenced band The Mollys.
McCallion was working on “Go to Ground” before COVID-19 and when the state ordered everyone to stay put, she continued working on it. But her focus changed; in addition to wondering aloud about the “Bones in the Sand” — “Human bones are all the same, got no country got no name”— she found herself angry at the president, frustrated that in America today it takes two jobs to make ends meet, and the world is still so mean.
She channels our insecurities and fears of isolation with “Even in My Own Home” and our political angst on “The World Today,” a song that doesn’t name names but it’s clear who McCallion is taking aim at: “Look what he has learned to do / Lie until the lie comes true.”
The swinging blues rocker “No Room At the Inn” paints a picture of Lady Liberty shutting off the “vacancy” lights and turning away immigrants while her Celtic-infused, pop-flavored take on Billy Bragg’s “Between the Wars” takes on a more contemporary urgency that could easily apply to the current divisions in America as wars between nations.
“Go to Ground” is not all gloom and doom, mind you: There’s a blues, jazzy fun to where “Pandemic Mama, used to shave her legs / Pandemic Papa cooking scrambled eggs / There ain’t nothing else in this lonely world / Pandemic Papa, pandemic girl”; and a frolicky pop twang to “I Don’t Wanna Go to Bed.”
McCallion recorded the album at the studio of legendary Tucson musician Duncan Stitt with her husband, Danny Krieger, playing electric and lead guitar.
Krieger will join McCallion for a CD release concert with her Pandemic Band — she and Krieger, Ralph Gilmore on drums and her brother Neil McCallion on bass and backup vocal — at 7 pm. Tuesday, Nov. 24, on the patio of Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Admission is $8 at the door.