A.Z., the Visualiza, once rhymes, “Life’s a bitch and then you die; that’s why we get high / Cause you never know when you’re gonna go.” That’s a street hustler’s tale, but everyone, including a regular guy like me, has a story to tell. In fact, I have many stories, but who would care what I have to say about my ordinary, if not boring, life? Phu Quang, on the other hand, has thirteen simple—but unforgettable—stories in his songbook, Chuyen Binh Thuong, I am sure many people would love to hear. Each piece expresses his feelings, reflects his reminiscences or shares his life experiences in a gorgeous lyrical and musical style.
Who could tell a simple story better then a minimalist herself? Hong Nhung is incomparable on “Khuc Mua.” The way she maneuvers her vocals in and out of the blues-inflected chord and around the bossa-nova rhythm section simply takes my breath away. “Tinh Khuc 24” is also a remarkable performance in which her phrasing is irresistible—especially her effortlessness in carrying those long notes. In addition to Hong Nhung, My Hanh and Ngoc Anh are also featured female vocalists who help Phu Quang convey his story to the audience. Although both singers have a raspy voice (Ngoc Anh’s timbre is thicker), each has a distinctive sound and unique style. My Hanh’s powerful delivery is perfect for the rock-inflected “Dau Phai Boi Mua Thu.” She gives both “Thuong Lam Toc Dai Oi” and “Sinh Nhat Den” a heartfelt, expressive delivery. Though the performances could have been even superior if her breath wasn’t audible. Likewise, Ngoc Anh’s rendition of “Mua Thu Giau Em” could have been finer if she could keep her respiration to a minimum level. Speaking of breath-control technique, Quang Ly is the master. Even when he phrases the high notes on “Da Khuc,” his falsetto is flawless. Furthermore, his sensational vocals, gentle tones, and passionate deliveries go together with Phu Quang’s compositions like bread and butter.
Besides the singers, the producers deserve the credits for their behind-the-scene contribution as well. Viet Anh and Duc Tri have done an ingenious job of arranging simple but vibrant sounds for the vocalists to lay down the lyrical contents. And mad props go to Tang Thanh Nam for his rich, crisp sound on the violin—particularly on “Bang Quo,” in which Phuc Quang tells his story himself. 13 Chuyen Binh Thuong proves that life doesn’t have to be a bitch, if we appreciate its simplicity and live it to the fullest, which doesn’t have to involve getting high either.