After a year marked by astounding artistic cooperation, technology pushed to its limits and reams of legal paperwork, Nashville's Compass Records has released the album Hands Across the Water: A Benefit for the Children of the Tsunami.
The 16-song album is the brainchild of musicians Andrea Zonn and John Cutliffe, who served as the project's producers. Among the more than 100 musicians participating are Vince Gill, Rodney Crowell, John Prine, Jackson Browne, Tim O'Brien, Jon Randall, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Jim Lauderdale, Darrell Scott, Maura O'Connell, Mindy Smith, Jerry Douglas and the Duhks.
Thanks to Cutliffe, a veteran of the Irish music scene, there is also a rich infusion of Irish and English voices and instruments, including those of the bands Flook, Lunasa, Solas and Altan. Thirty recording studios in the U. S., Canada, Europe and Australia were involved. Everyone, including the recording engineers, worked for free.
Hands Across the Waterboasts such traditional songs as "Fair and Tender Ladies," "A Man of Constant Sorrow," "A Fond Kiss," "Let's Heal," "An Occasional Song," "Be Still My Soul" and "In the Sweet By and By." Prine and his wife, Fiona, essay the country standard "'Til a Tear Becomes a Rose." Lauderdale wrote "This World's Family" especially for the album and performs it with O'Connell. Crowell and Irish singer Paul Brady render a wistful reading of Johnny Cash's "40 Shades of Green."
Zonn says she and Cutliffe began discussing the idea of creating a fundraising album two days after the devastating tsunami struck the coasts in Southeast Asia on Dec. 26, 2004. "We just felt so helpless," Zonn recalls. "The project helped us alleviate that."
"There was no production budget at all," Cutliffe notes. "We kind of went, 'Who do we know?'" As it turned out, he and Zonn knew dozens of people eager to contribute. An outstanding fiddler and vocalist, Zonn is best known for her work with Vince Gill. More recently she toured as a member of James Taylor's band.
"Everybody said yes immediately," Cutliffe continues. While he agrees the undertaking might have been an organizational nightmare, that's not how he remembers it. "It was all happening so fast," he says. "When things happened, we just dealt with them."
The actual recording took place between January and May of 2005, according to Cutliffe. While most of the tracks were done in conventional studios, some of the musicians recorded their parts at home or in hotels along their tour routes. The data was routinely transmitted back to Nashville via the Internet.
After that, Cutliffe reports, "there was a lot of paperwork" involving the artists' labels, managers and publishers.
Initially, Compass planned to release Hands Across the Water in August but then decided to hold it until the first anniversary of the disaster. The album was made available to digital retailers on Dec. 20 and in regular record stores on Jan. 10.
During the remainder of January, Cutliffe says, the album will be released in major markets throughout the world, including Ireland, the Netherlands, Japan and Australia. To collect and distribute income from the album, he and Zonn have established the nonprofit Acoustic Canvas organization. It will also be used, Cutliffe says, for other child-oriented charity projects.