Any Vietnamese songster who has not recorded a Trinh Cong Son’s album should start thinking about it now to get the tradition over with. That’s right, every well-known musician has released at least a Trinh’s record during his or her career. Even Phuong Thanh wants a piece of Trinh’s work, isn’t that incredible? Whenever a Trinh’s album is released, the controversy is inevitable, and Phuong Thanh’s Thuong Mot Nguoi (To Love Someone) is no exemption. Even before the album hits the racks, Trinh’s lovers have expressed frustrations; however, they can be reassured that Phuong Thanh has not destroyed anything.
Unlike Thanh Lam who has always stirred things up by singing Trinh’s songs with her powerful and intricate techniques, Phuong Thanh sticks to the script, which is unusual because she has never been a gentle vocalist. She is a belter with a huge, scratchy voice. Yet, the soft and straightforward approach works because it allows her emotion to carry the weight. Even the productions (from Kim Tuan, Hoai Sa, Vinh Tam, and Duc Tri) are kept to the minimal, simple strumming guitar accompanied most tracks, to allow Phuong Thanh’s aspirate voice be the essence. As a result, the album is delivered with honesty and sincerity from the opening “Cat Bui” (Sand and Dust) to the closing “Ca Dao Me” (Mother’s Folk Poetry).
The strength of Thuong Mot Nguoi is in the maturity of her vocals. We can enjoy her singing instead of screaming on “Uot Mi” (Tearful) and “Bien Nho” (The Sea Will Miss). Her croaky timbre sounds sweet rather than heavy on “Diem Xua” (Miss Diem) and “Rung Xua Da Khep” (The Old Forest Has Closed). Her breath control is a tremendous improvement, distinctly on “Tinh Xa” (Far Love). The heartrending “Ca Dao Me” would have been perfect if she could keep her breathing off the track like the way she does with “Tinh Xa” because the phrasing is superb, and the sentiment is there.
Thuong Mot Nguoi is neither groundbreaking nor outstanding, but much better than what I have expected. Take that as a compliment from a guy who has not been feeling Phuong Thanh since the days of “Trong Vang” (Emptiness). Congratulations on the baby girl as well as the success of the album. Hope this is a new turning point for Phuong Thanh.