There can be a sober, noble sensibility about a solo instrument, and the cello, with its expressiveness so close to the human voice, is able to tug fiercely at the heart. In the right hands it possesses beauty and power, and Hanks owns the right hands and imagination. She’s worked with people in folk music and beyond, but for this, she’s made her world shrink. Not simply to lone instrument, or even to the Steel City, Sheffield, where she lives, and reputedly built on seven hills like Rome, but quite specifically her local area of Meersbrook. The tracks become a walk through its geography and history, as tactile as any mix of playing and field recordings can be.
It crosses the initial boundary of “Meer” (which once separated Yorkshire from Derbyshire) then along the “Keld” – the only traditional tune here, with its simple, open melody of longing – before a wander around Rush Dale (in “Brook”) and Carr Wood (“Carr”) to the open farmland of “Ley,” before people intrude on the landscape.
It’s completely grounded in its surroundings. Hanks makes each note into a footstep that carries us with her. Inevitably, the sound is spare, but never stark, thanks to a wonderfully rich production that captures the nuances of the compositions as well as the woodiness and warmth of the instrument. By the time Land is over, you’ll have trodden and heard Meersbrook in the company of someone who loves it, and whose music makes the perfect guide.