Elaine May’s Ishtar turns 35 this year. The film features two bumbling songwriters—played by Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty (who produced the film)—casting about for songs when they happen upon the line “telling the truth is dangerous business.” Paul Williams wrote the song “Dangerous Business”—a more than tongue-in-cheek description of songwriting, in particular, and the refusal of the larger music industry to cut anything but bright and happy and sedate songs—for the film.
Last year StorySound Records owner Dick Connette gathered a dozen artists from the label’s roster—The StorySound All-Stars—in Restoration Sound and the Power Station at BerkleeNYC, and they have recorded a carefree, rollicking, downright joyous new version of the song that opens slowly and sparsely but picks up the tempo on every verse and chorus until the music dances off the grooves.
The plaintive notes of an accordion stroll into the Rachelle Garniez’s opening dedicatory lines: “and now Ladies and gentleman this next song is for a very lovely lady of the left.” Those sonically spare lines blossom exultantly into the opening verse, with a striding soulful vibe flowing over rolling piano chords and radiant accordion notes. The first verse lays out the stark truth of the life of a musician or songwriter: “Telling the truth is a dangerous business/Honest and popular don’t go hand in hand/If you admit that you can play the accordion/No one’ll hire you in a rock ‘n’ roll band.”
In defiant acclamation, though, the singers embrace the freedom music brings them, and us, and the power of music to heal: “But we can sing our hearts out/And if we’re lucky then no neighbors complain/Nobody knows where the beginning part starts out/But bein’ human we can live with the pain.” The chorus of voices spirals higher and higher as the music moves from a circling soul anthem peppered with spicy second-line ingredients and blaring Memphis horns. A heavenly chorus of all the singers’ voices elevates the double entendre refrain: “Because life is the way we audition for God/Let us pray that we all get the job.”
The entertaining new version of “Dangerous Business” is a tribute to May’s and Williams’ comic genius, as well as a showcase for a group of brilliant musicians singing their hearts out and reveling in the joys of the enduring power of song to bring us together.
Connette describes the way this version of the song came together: “When I decided to record the song, I instinctually wanted to include as many of the artists from my label as I could. Rachelle Garniez and Chaim Tannenbaum take the lead, and are supported by a chorus that includes Loudon Wainwright III, Suzzy Roche, Lucy Wainwright Roche, Ana Egge, Amanda Homi, Terry Radigan, Lorenzo Wolff and Daisy Press. It turned out my gut was right. Featured singer Rachelle Garniez told me she would have been really mad at me if I hadn’t asked her in on the session.
It turned out that many of those involved were May-fans and, for a few of them, Ishtar was something of a touchstone. In retrospect, it makes sense, as the no-compromise ethos of the label and of the artists themselves is distinctly of the ‘rather have nothing, than settle for less’ variety. The artists recognize that in each other and celebrate it in the joyous song (and dance) of that ‘Dangerous Business’ that is our life’s work.”
“Dangerous Business” is available HERE