Sunday, July 8, 2018

July: Money For Floods

Joan Baez: Money For Floods


Richard Shindell: Money For Floods


We’re About 9: Money For Floods


“My name is Eliza I live by the river My daughter Louise will be three in July…” A little digging uncovers a large number of songs to choose from for our new theme. However, I love a challenge, so I wanted one that did not reference the fourth of July. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great fourth of July songs that I hope we get to over the next two weeks. But there is also Money For Floods.

It wasn’t a hit, but Joan Baez has recorded the most popular version of the song to date. I often find that people who don’t like Joan Baez object to the sound of her early recordings. These were pure folk, and Baez’ voice at the time was admittedly an acquired taste. She had a high soprano voice that could sound shrill to some, and with only her guitar playing as accompaniment, you could not miss that voice. But two things happened as time went on. First, Baez began to experiment with fuller arrangements of her music. Some of these experiments, to my tastes, served her poorly, but she was certainly one of the most innovative folk artists of her day, and the best of this music still sounds fresh today. Second, Joan Baez was very young when she started, and her voice had changed noticeably by the time her career was ten years in. By the time she recorded Money For Floods, Baez was singing in an alto to low soprano range. This mature voice is capable of emotional depths that Baez could not achieve in the same way in her youth. The early shrillness, which I never minded, is a distant memory on this recording. Money For Floods is a song that gains a great deal by being sung by a woman, and Joan Baez delivers.

Baez has a few songwriting credits sprinkled throughout her career, but she is best known as an interpreter of traditional songs and the work of other writers. Such is the case here. Money For Floods was written by Richard Shindell. Shindell can write and sing a song from a woman’s point of view and make us believe in the song, because he is just that good. His arrangement of the song dictates that the sound begins intimately, and then swells at the first chorus, and the other versions I present here each follow this pattern in their own way. It is a musical metaphor that is fully explained in the lyrics by the end of the song, and it is a brilliant device.

Finally, I have included a version of the song in an a capella arrangement. We’re About 9 finds a way to make this work in a minimal arrangement that derives its power from its sparseness.

I found one more version of Money For Floods that I chose not to include, by Rob Rowe. Rowe has a voice that I find to be overly dramatic for the song, and his band doesn’t find the emotion of the song, to my ear. Also, Rowe changes the lyric so that the point of view is male, and that just doesn’t work for me on this song.

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