Last year, Thanh Lam brought Trinh Cong Son’s music to a whole new level with her recording of Ru Mai Ngan Nam (Lullabies Forever), which earned her 2004 Album of the Year in Ha Noi. This year, she takes Le Minh Son’s work to a higher plateau with her latest Nang Len (Sunrise). Sounding hungry, raw, and full of passion, she cuts straight to the essence of the song and drops verses harder than before. Le Minh Son’s compositions are the fuel that ignites the fire in her voice, something that she has been waiting for. The question is not how far she can reach, but how much she has to restrain her powerful vocals. She never ceases to astonish us with how long she can hold on to a note.
Thanh Lam and Le Minh Son in music are like Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese in movies. While Scorsese’s films allow De Niro to create his character, Son’s compositions permit Lam to construct her attitude. Her high energy and vivid personality come through on every track. Even when the beats fail her, as they do on the weird pop-jazz arrangement on “Tim Anh Bang Nu Cuoi” (Find You By a Smile), she is still listenable.
While Lam is a gifted singer, Son is a talented musician who adds something new to traditional music with his skillful mixture of folk and jazz; his compositions sound like no others. He has an innovative technique and a fluid style of his own. Nang Len showcases his various tastes including the classical “Nguoi O Nguoi Ve” (One Stays, One Returns), the contemporary folk “Oi Que Toi” (Oh! My Countryside), and the jazz “Anh Se Ve” (He Will Return). Although Lam switches up her flow to blend with different genre, one element remains unchanged; she never sounds soft or weak.
If Son’s lyrics are bullets, Lam’s delivery is a gun. She blows like a 12-gauge shotty all over “Da Trong Chong” (Turned to Stone). As if Lam’s vocals are not sorrowful enough already, Son includes ken bop (a horn used mostly for funerals) along with folk orchestration to boost up his modern-drama version of Hon Vong Phu’s tragic tale. Son has guts and Lam has attitude. Together they make music that flows through our bodies like doses of an adrenaline rush.
On the title track “Nang Len” (Sunrise), Lam authoritative vocal is the driving force behind the symphony. She drives the arrangement like a conductor leads the ensemble. The result is a masterpiece that is rich in detail and thick in texture. “Co Doi” (Couple) is an intricate piece that proves she is the master of phrasing, an aesthetic element that makes the lyrics come to life. On the chorus, she flows as if she could go on forever, and at the same time she lets no breathing sound slip by in between the lines. This is something that many inexperienced singers could not do even when they do not reach the high notes the way Lam does.
Nang Len is an exquisite album that is intended for aficionados, not ordinary listeners. The record not only showcases Lam’s full potential, but also offers listeners all the dynamics and intricacy of the most sophisticated class of music. Is the album worth purchasing? Hell, it’s Thanh Lam. She never puts out anything less than superior performance, and this one is superb.
Big up to Thao Suong for the album.