Don Ho not only has a singer’s ear but also a designer’s eye. From CD covers to booklets to posters, he is one of a few Vietnamese musicians who create all of the graphics design work. Now that he has finished studying computer animation, I won’t be too surprise to see his self-produced music video and website. Since Don is involved in every step of making his album, it only makes sense for him to launch his own recording company. After a long hiatus, even missing in action from Paris By Night stage, he is back with Don Ho production’s debut Con Nghe Tieng Goi (Still Hear Your Calling) to give his patiently awaiting fans a few surprises.
Don Ho’s distinctive vocals have always been his forte, but his personality, which gives soul to his performance, is his secret weapon. To say that he has “soul” would be an understatement; he is soul personified. Don’s charm and enthusiasm shine through on Dieu Huong’s “Van Con Yeu” (Still In Love), a cinema scope tune full of emotional detail. His slightly raspy voice adds an enlivening hint of smokiness to Huong’s ballad while the saxophone adds an intoxicating riff to Dong Son’s arrangement. The title track “Con Nghe Tieng Goi” (Still Hear Your Calling), which comes from Dieu Huong’s pen, is an astonishing and refreshing pop meets jazz permutation, and Don’s vocals blend into the chord as effortlessly as breathing. Don should sings more jazz-inflected grooves. His smoky but silky voice is perfect for capturing the sexiness of jazz aesthetics.
“Dem” (Night), music composed by Dong Son and lyrics written by Dong Son and Minh Chau, demonstrates Don’s performance over the years, which has become increasingly thoughtful and textured. He interposes tremendous soul and warmth into the work that one can hear in the details, and his bends and slides are honestly delivered. Besides the mellow tracks, Don stays loyal to his young fans by providing some bouncy tunes including Sy Dan’s “Con Tim Mu Loa” (A Blinded Heart), and by his skillful interpretation of covering catchy translated songs such as Nhat Ngan’s “Mong Mo Xa Roi” (Faded Dream).
The most surprising song on the record is the sweet duo performance between Don Ho and the little girl Lan Anh on Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” Lan Anh’s young and adorable voice gives Don a rejuvenating sound, and together they complement each other having a wondrous time, weaving in and out of the sax harmony. What a wonderful world!
Con Nghe Tieng Goi marks a strong new beginning for Don Ho as he embarks on his solo career path. Now that he has his own production company, the creative freedom is interminable. While his fans should not miss this stellar effort, I am looking forward to what he will have lined up next.