Nguyen Khang & Diem Lien – Phut Ban Dau

Huynh Nhat Tan sure knows how to write pop hits. His ballads are neither sophisticated nor sugarcoated. His lyrics are easy to comprehend but not stodgy, and his melodies are catchy without being syrupy. As a result, he has been churning out hits after hits for Van Son Entertainment. With the release of Phut Ban Dau, we’re presented with a handful of Huynh Nhat Tan’s colorful, soulful, and flavorful compositions performed by Nguyen Khang and Diem Lien, two young and established voices in the Vietnamese-American community.

Because of his carefree charisma, acute sensitivity, and masculinity (vocal wise), Nguyen Khang could transform sweet ballads into sentimental standards. On the opener “Cu Lua Doi Di,” he gives a soul-stirring performance with a heart-to-heart conversation with his lover, which could also be his listeners. His technical is flawless. Even when he hits the upper register, he still maintains the effortlessness in his flow. With “Hoi Nguoi Yeu,” the most mesmerizing part is when Hoai Phuong’s sensuous saxophone blows in, and then Nguyen Khang follows with a breathtaking wordless vocalization. Together they give the tune a savory flavor of jazz. “Se Khong Con Yeu” starts off with the chorus, and Nguyen Khang shows how he could embrace the hook by manipulating it with his own enthralling back-up vocals.

Opposite from Nguyen Khang’s thick and raspy quality, Diem Lien’s voice is thin, clear, but no less expressive and authoritative. Warbler Diem Lien provides a heartfelt rendition of “Mai Yeu La Chi.” Love the way Luan Vu’s violin responds to her lines. The soul-sawing sound of the instrument added a sense of depth into her poignant delivery. Although her performances on “Noi Vo Tinh Ngot Ngao” and “Roi Anh Cung Ra Di” are emotional and robust, her aspirate, breathy voice brings down her delivery.

Believe it or not, the most disappointing performance on the album is the title track, which also is the only duet between the two. The r-&-b groove is inert, and neither Nguyen Khang nor Diem Lien could save the banality of the saccharine chord. It gets worse when they try to imitate the r&b’s style of phrasing. Another obvious dwindling track is “Giac Mo” with the assistance of Vpop. Huynh Nhat Tan is wasting his ink with the translated tune. Without those two tracks, the album is a phenomenon. It’s about time Van Son productions do something right.