Thanh Lam and Le Minh Son, once again, reinvigorated Trinh Cong Son’s pop standards on Nay Em Co Nho, their third studio collaboration. By weaving eastern instruments (three-stringed lute, sixteen-stringed zither and flute) into the western (piano, guitar, violin, viola, and cello), Le Minh Son produced ingenious semi-classic harmonies. The east-meets-west musical palette gives Thanh Lam plenty of colors and room to paint Trinh’s lyrical images.
Like most Vietnamese singers (and listeners), Thanh Lam loves and respects Trinh’s works. Even though she approaches his materials with her own passion, especially on the voluptuous rendition of “Phoi Pha,” she never fails to embrace his melodies, caress his verses, and nurture his rhymes. Even on the weird recovering of “Mot Coi Di Ve,” she coarsens and punctuates in strange places, but Trinh’s aesthetics never leave the canvas. At first, I preferred the old jazz standard version, which she gave an indelible presentation on the classic Ru Doi Di Nhe, over the new eccentric classical-jazz arrangement by pianist Tran Manh Hung; however, I am more convinced after several spins. The oddness becomes natural, and that’s the way the album grows: slowly but surely.
Trinh’s signature pieces are not new to us, but Thanh Lam’s deliveries are. Like the way she flows in and out of the staccato violin on “Lang Le Noi Nay” is breathtaking. On “Nay Em Co Nho,” she maneuvers skillfully around the sonorous violin and piano accents giving the title track a soulful performance. Accompanied by Le Minh Son’s nimble-fingered guitar, Thanh Lam gives “Bien Nho” a gorgeous reminiscent of Khanh Ly and Trinh Cong Son, despite the differences in styles. Elsewhere, the clear-pitched flute not only balances her slightly gruff voice, but also assists her to paint incomparable images of Saigon, such as sunrises, rainfalls, streetlights, green tamarind leafs and familiar bricks, on the nostalgic “Em Con Nho Hay Em Da Quen.”
Last year, Thanh Lam and Le Minh Son shocked us with the groundbreaking Ru Mai Ngan Nam. If the sequel does not strike our chords, it is because we are used to its predecessor. In any rate, Nay Em Co Nho is unquestionably an expansive artistic vision from an accomplished vocalist and a talented producer.
Thanks Thao Suong for the album.