Beck, it should be noted, really studied the genre of sheet music in creating his book. One aspect of sheet music from the early 1900s was a lot of songs about America/soldiers/war. In fact, Beck even noted the genre was even more specific than that:
"This was a song inspired by all these songs I found from World War I, World War II era. There's a whole category of songs where a mother offering her child to her country, to the army, or the war effort."
(May 20, 2013 on stage)
So in putting his songs together, Beck wrote a song along these lines as well: "America, Here's My Boy."
The song is fairly clear, from the point-of-view of a parent, raising a son who goes off to war.
"America" is interesting in both Beck's catalog, and Song Reader alone, as such an old-fashioned sentiment, to be sending your child off to war for the good of the country. I would say, it is probably not one of the more oft-covered songs in Song Reader for this reason.
Still, there is some meat here, as it is quite emotional and the beautiful chord structure can resonate. Underneath the melodramatic lyrics lays a calm, flowing arrangement, which helps to underpin the sadness and false hopes. I think this is the common connection between all the versions of the song, and done right, it makes the words feel more real, not just a distant disconnected story from the past.
Most artists who cover "America" don't get too wild with it, and there are a number of very stripped-down folk arrangements (solo guitar, banjo, piano, etc.). Also it seems to be a song that strong singers can really tackle, and show off their vocals.
War songs may not be the most modern, fashionable, hip thing nowadays, but because of that it fits very well in Song Reader.
Beck has performed a few of the Song Reader songs on stage a few times, and "America, Here's My Boy" is one of them.
First in May 2013, he did it at a San Francisco Song Reader event, where he performed the song acoustically, with bass and piano accompaniment.
A few months later, in July, Beck did the song again, this time in the acoustic set of his show at the Newport Folk Festival (quite an appropriate place to do an old-timey folk song).
Then, finally, a few months after that in November, there was a big Song Reader show in Los Angeles. Beck did two of the songs by himself, and a few others as collaborations, but one of the solo tracks he did was an acoustic "America." You can watch it here:
Notes: On a bunch of the Song Reader songs, Beck actually re-used titles or artwork from old actual sheet music. There is indeed an older work called "America, Here's My Boy." You can read about (and hear) that song here, and the artwork I've included above is from it as well. Beck's artwork for the song is very similar, though not exact.