To judge by the fragments previously available and a performance of the whole work recorded in Hamburg, the finished Smile fuses its fragments and fulfills its legend. Wilson and Parks set its seventeen songs as three movements in a work with the lyrical cogency of a cantata and the musical coherence of a symphony. The lyrics take a journey through the history of the United States that leads from Plymouth Rock, across the cornfields on the iron horse, to the church of the American Indian. The opening movement starts with the wordless a cappella hymn "Our Prayer," moves through the John Ford western of "Heroes and Villains" and the Looney Tunes cartoon of "Barnyard," and closes with the home-on-the-range "Cabin Essence." The central slow movement starts with the exquisite "Wonderful" and ends with the ecstatic "Surf's Up." The closing movement starts with the hilarious "I'm in Great Shape," moves through the joyous "Vega-Tables" to the infernal "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow," and climaxes with the luminous "Good Vibrations."
The finished Smile is a great work of American musical art, comparable to the best of Ives, Ellington, or Gershwin. Anyone with a heart, a soul, and a spirit should hear it.
[Originally published in October, 2004.]
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