In retrospect, Don Ho (Vietnamese not Hawaiian) made some interesting changes in his singing career. The good part was that he moves closer to the root. When he first stepped on the scene in early 90s, he chose mostly French and English standards. As he created a name for himself, he glided into translated melodies, and then slowly began to cover Vietnamese ballads as he gained more confidence. Don Ho captured many hearts, including mine, with romantic tunes such as Truc Ho’s “Trai Tim Mua Dong,” Duc Huy’s “Nhu Da Dau Yeu” and Ngo Thuy Mien’s “Tinh Khuc Buon.” At the high point of his career, he came out with Vuc Sau Hanh Phuc, an album that showed a new and exciting path for Don Ho and his fans.
In addition to ten original tunes from nine Vietnamese musicians around the world, Don Ho also works with a number of talented musicians to get the sound he wants. On the album starter, Nguyen Dinh Loi’s “Nguoi Mai Chua Ve,” the flourishing and soothing arrangement from Peter Tran and the composer himself provides a musical space for Don Ho to pour his smoky baritone into the notes with intensity and intricacy. On Van Duc Nguyen’s “Nhip Buoc Hoang Vu,” producer Dong Son cleverly weaves Chi Tam’s traditional sound from the single-stringed instrument (dan bau) into his organic vibes. The result is an ambient arrangement that is perfect for Don Ho’s soulful delivery. With Sy Dan’s lust, mysterious orchestration backing him up, Don Ho nails Vo Thien Hoang’s “Ngoai Cua Thien Duong” right on the sentimental spot. In contrast, Sy Dan’s dark, gothic theme doesn’t work too well on Trang Thanh Truc’s “Goi Nguoi Xa Voi.” Fortunately, the bonus track, which is a slow version, is illustrious. Although Tung Chau’s production is not as rich and cinematic, it works better with this particular piece, and Albert Von Seggern’s sweet sax on the break heightens the listening experience. Tung Chau has also done a marvelous orchestration on the title track allowing Don Ho to express the lyrics to their fullest. On the Latin-infused fusion, Mai Nguyen’s “Tren Ngan Le Sau” and Bao Tram’s “Tieng Duong Cam Cua Nha,” Don Ho’s raspy quality adds an intoxicating flavor to the ballads.
Vuc Sau Hanh Phuc is a Stella effort that proves Don Ho’s full potential as well as his versatile artistry. The album also raised the bar so high that he has been struggling to top it for years. Even though his latest work, Con Nghe Tieng Goi, shows tremendous technical improvement in his vocals, the materials he covered could not surpassed the cutting-edge concept he has done on this album.