Matthew Oomen’s Where The Valley Is Long sounds just as its title would suggest. Stretched out, light only visible at certain points, and mostly covered by long, dark, shadows. Done in a minimalistic folk style, every song from this ex-pat (Oomen currently resides in Norway) is slow and feels as if each note has been thought about with care. With heavy deliberation, Oomen makes music and tells stories.
The contemplative atmosphere that Oomen creates is both a strength and weakness for the album, depending on your own mood. If you are need of some meditation, Oomen caters to that. The shaker in “Tired Winds” or the cello, most successfully heard in “En Masse,” are some of the louder accompanying instruments. The faint and pleasant backing vocals from Rebekah Oomen are also scattered across Where The Valley Is Long. All of these support Oomen’s gentle vocals and skillfully plucked acoustic guitar and sometimes banjo. As if Oomen is sitting down with you one-on-one, he quietly tells you stories, often pastoral, that calm your soul.
The opening song “Master’s Row” is the most absorbing of the eight. At six minutes, it feels like a winding journey that is guided not by fear but rather comfort and safety. A later track “Call to Straw” creates a similar impression. The sound of a clarinet adds to the peacefulness the song conjures.
Where the weakness lies is the inevitable darkness that comes with being given the opportunity to think about things. This dwelling is made easier by Oomen’s lulling folk sounds and the melancholy that permeates the various songs. In “Marlborough Wood,” for example, Oomen accompanied by Rebekah sings, “how was I to know?” with such sadness. “Camp Hill,” an instrumental interlude, is the only real break from the heaviness. Here, Oomen shows off some skillful guitar picking and ultimately the heart of his record.
Matthew Oomen’s Where The Valley Is Long is a dense folk journey that takes commitment but ultimately has a worthy conclusion.
Top Track: “Master’s Row”
Rating: Young Hoot (Decent)