The rule is simple. If a new singer wants to cover popular tunes, he must take them to a new level. Or else, what is the point? Why should listeners waste their time, if not only their money, listen to him singing the same old songs? Viet Hoai doesn’t follow that rule, however. He doesn’t want to reinvent them even though the result is rewarding when he does. He just wants to sing from his heart. Fair enough.
Viet Hoai’s debut, Tam Su Nguoi Ca Si, kicks off with a reviving rendition of Doan Chuan and Tu Linh’s “Tinh Nghe Si.” His warm, well-built voice and his straightforward delivery work gracefully with the beautiful, blues-flavored production. The title track, Phu Quang’s “Tam Su Nguoi Ca Si,” is also refreshing thanks to the bossa-nova rhythm section and the exquisite muted trumpet. Yet, Quoc Truong’s “Hoang Hon” is where he’s at his best. The arrangement eases back to allow his clear, quiet voice dominates, but when he needs the strident accompaniment to make a statement, they are right behind him, especially the subtle violin sound. Escorted by a simple strumming acoustic guitar, he pours his soul into “Duong Doi” like he uses the lyrics to tell his own story.
His version of Huy Xuan’s “Thuyen va Bien” is an idiosyncratic one. Despite the gorgeous orchestration, which includes a sinuous sax solo, he sounds way off keys compare to Quang Ly and Thu Minh. The beauty of the song, however, is the weirdness quality in his interpretation, once we get it. Even though his vocals get breathy and his falsetto falls short on those long notes, he manages to pull off Tran Long An’s “Dem Thanh Pho Day Sao.” The album leans toward bland and dull side when he tries to work his ways into the up-tempo Luong Khai’s “Tinh Khuc Chieu Mua” and Tran Tien’s “Mua Xuan Goi.” He simply can’t ride the bouncy beats.