I am still picking up my man Tuan Ngoc’s old albums whenever I get a chance. The most recent one is Nho Em Giu Lay Tinh Ta (released in 2000 by Diem Xua productions), in which he once again demonstrates his mastery of approaching ballads. And no, Tuan Ngoc doesn’t need any further introduction so let’s cut straight to the recordings.
With a refined, relaxed technique, he gives Ngo Thuy Mien’s “Mat Biec” and “Tu Giong Hat Em” a soul-calming rendition, especially on “Mat Biec” where his voice melts the lyrics around Jack Freeman’s soothing sax. His signature style of hovering-over-the-next-bar is also displayed on the former piece. On “Ta On Doi,” his flow becomes intricate to match Pham Duy’s complex lyricism. I love the way he phrases, “Dam eo seo nhan the / Chua phai long say me.” The words “eo seo” sound so sensuous, yet I have no clue what they mean. And of course, Duy Cuong’s orchestration is as luscious as always on the production.
On Tung Giang’s “Toi Voi Troi Bo Vo,” Tuan Ngoc’s quiet beauty marks the pinnacle of his vocal artistry. He emphasizes the words “lanh lung” (noticeably the cracked timbre on “lanh”) so natural that we could feel the chilliness as well as the coziness in his expression. Beneath the superb technique is a human spirit that moves us when he delivers, “Ai cho toi mot ngay yen vui / Cho toi quen cuoc doi bao noi.” The eerie, lust arrangement produced by Vu Tuan Duc added a mysterious image to the gloomy, lonesome night.
The only performance that is somewhat disappointing is Anh Bang’s “Khuc Thuy Du” (poem by Du Tu Le). His breathing was labored. Yes, I do have high expectations for Tuan Ngoc—nothing less than perfect—but he meets them most of the time. That’s why I got love for him. Even though he cheated on me once, he’s still my main man when it comes to Vietnamese music. I sound mad gay, don’t I?