Really great stuff. I urge you to go to grooveshark right now and listen to it like three or four times in a row. Don’t go to youtube, which has live versions but not the actual album track, because the album track is what you want. Really-really-really! Do it! You’ll be totally glad you did! Maybe you’ll want to buy it, too. Randy deserves your money.
It has so much going on; it is rewarding many (many) listenings on my part.
Musically, it’s both beautiful and interesting--values which aren't consistently coterminus over time--with Newman’s piano striking/haunting/pretty in the instrumental sections and then in the choruses moving to catchy-bluesy, and then--giving your ear a lot to notice--rolling along with a long fade featuring Mark Knopfler on both slide guitar and mandolin.
Lyrically, it’s even better than it is musically. There’re (literally) laugh-out-loud funny lines in there and great word-sounds and rhythms (it begins: “I was born right here, November ’43; Dad was a captain in the Army, Fightin’ the Germans in Sicily”). The reunion scene of the mother and daughter is a poignant moment that (literally) can bring a tear to my eye, and the word pictures are vivid (e.g. “dress as black as a crow in a coal mine”). The tone is knowing, sweet, and particularly smart about family.
Best of all: in a career of character songs, smart snark, thematic projects, et cetera, this is one of the few times Newman has written a really-about-him 1st-person song, and IN THAT SONG he has a very good section about people WISHING THEY COULD BE SOMEONE BESIDES WHO THEY ARE. The section is about his mother’s brothers, who want to act like the Southern locals “tryin’ to do like the gentiles do/Christ, they wanna be gentiles, too/who wouldn’t down there, wouldn’t you?/an American Christian, Goddamn!” and with a backdrop of WWII, that’s especially layered and rich. So I like it not just on its own immediate merits, which are considerable, but on the meta level of Randy stepping outside his wheelhouse for a minute, and while doing so, subtly critiquing his normal disguise-yourself style.
I also think it's very funny--in fact this is some of what recently sent me back to Randy Newman--that on Weeds the character of Andy uses "Randy Newman" as his incognito name. See? 'Cause Randy Newman writes in character? Hilarious.
I also reread a Randy Newman interview in Paul Zollo's very good book of songwriter interviews, and have been reading Randy Newman's old blog entries, which are awesome.
So, that's some of what's happening in my head today. Carry on. Peace and love, y'all.