Three days ago, I was in a Vietnamese music shop in Philly asking for Tuan Ngoc’s latest album. The retailer told me, “We don’t have Tuan Ngoc new album, but we do have someone new who sings like Tuan Ngoc.” Since I was the only customer, she offered to play Dinh Ngoc’s album produced by Asia Entertainment, so I can get a glimpse of the new singer. As the CD advanced to the second track, she asked, “What do you think?” I smiled, “Yes! He does sound like Tuan Ngoc.”
Welcome to Tuan-Ngoc-esque’s club. Quang Dung, Nguyen Khang, Quang Tuan, Anh Tuan, Quach Thanh Danh, Dinh Ngoc and several other male singers remind listeners of Tuan Ngoc when they perform; however, when Tuan Ngoc sings, none of them existed in his performance. Time has passed and the new may replace the old, but time has not passed by Tuan Ngoc and he is irreplaceable. His latest LP Hay Yeu Nhau Di 2 (Let’s Love Each Other 2) proves that he is like ginger, the older the age, the spicier the taste.
Since Hay Yeu Nhau Di 2 recorded in Viet Nam, the song selection is nostalgic. Dzoan Binh’s “Mot Dong Song Toi Van Hat” (A River I Still Sing) is like a trip down memory lane for Tuan Ngoc, and his mournful voice flows into the arrangement like water hyacinth floating on the quiet river. While he supplies the polish of his vocal to some of Do Dinh Phuc’s exceptional romantic ballads including “Tinh Day Voi” (Full of Love), “Ve Dau Em Hoi” (Where Do You Go?), and “Em Ve Giua Binh Minh” (You Return in the Mid Morning), the album best tracks are the jazz-inflected joints. His intricate phrasing along with the remarkable jazz riff curls like smoke from a cigar all over Do Dinh Phuc’s “Khuc Tinh” (Romantic Ballad). The saxophone and the guitar are enthralling, and together with the hypnotic beat, they enhance the aesthetic experience of the composition. Another magnificent piece under Do Dinh Phuc’s pen is “Voi” (Rush). Tuan Ngoc elegant delivery brings shapes and colors to the track while the rollicking piano accompaniment provides listeners a modern jazz with a shade of blue.
Doan Chuan and Tu Linh’s “La Do Muon Chieu” (Leaves Fall in Multi-direction) is Tuan Ngoc’s signature piece, but both Nguyen Nhat Huy’s “Em Quen Mua Dong” (You Forget Winter) and Nguyen Kim Tuan’s “Bien Can” (Shallow Sea) are not his typical selections. I am surprised that he chooses to perform these popular songs, yet I am even more astonished that he could pull them off with his distinctive style. His attention to the lyrics and his creative interpretation make his performances – not only on these two tracks, but also on the whole album – stand apart from the rest. His masterful singing, his skillful delivery, and his attention to details turn him into a rare gemstone (ngoc) in the Vietnamese-American music community.