Out of all the Asia’s princes, including Lam Nhat Tien, Le Tam and Gia Huy, Duy Linh is the only one that has a distinctive style. Although he could move in and out of trendy pop tunes, his forte is in the Vietnamese folk tradition, and his Tra Em Cay Dang Mong Vang proves it. Too bad he only recorded one solo album before Asia dropped him.
Most of the time, Vietnamese folk songs required strong and clear voice from the singers. Duy Linh is rare scenario. He doesn’t have a powerful voice, and his range of emotion is limited too. In a way, Duy Linh is similar to Miles Davis who found his own comfort zone in the middle register while Dizzy Gillespie was the master of playing high notes. So instead of reaching for the upper range, Duy Linh focuses his style in the cool, relaxed vicinity. As a result, his phrasings are more natural, which brings a new sound to the traditional folk. He also knows how important is it to secrete his breath. That’s a bonus.
What makes Tra Em Cay Dang Mong Vang works is not Duy Linh’s skillful delivery alone, but also the crisp, ingenious and flavorful production from Truc Sinh. Without the colorful sounds, especially from the traditional instruments, to complement Duy Linh’s effortless approach, the album might end up in the sleepy zone. From the mid-tempo rhythm section (Anh Bang & Tu Nguyen Thach’s “Tra Em Cay Dang Mong Vang” and Dai Phuong Trang & Quang Tu’s “Qua Cau Hat Ly Xa Nhau”) to the soothing groove (Vu Duoc Sao Bien’s “Dieu Buon Phuong Nam”), Duy Linh has plenty of rich, soulful beats to ride with.
With the special appearance of Yen Phuong whose voice is as clear as crystal and as sweet as sugarcane (in a natural sense), the album featured three delicious duets. On Nhat Thien’s “Mai Tranh Mo,” they have created a scene that is filled with lyrical romance of a young, loving couple whose dream was to build together a tree house next to a cool waterfall surrounded with singing birds. The sounds of various traditional instruments add gorgeous details to the piece, which helps me to visualize the pure and lovely image in my mind. On Dinh Tram Ca’s “Trang Hon Tui,” I envy the way they harmonized together as if they could connect and feel each other’s vibes for real. For instance, when he croons, “Ho… oi, em di lay chong,” she completes with, “Em lay chong nhu ca can cau.” The chemistry between the two is unbreakable just like a fish caught on a hook. On Han Chau’s “Ve Que Ngoai,” the way they try to convince each other to visit their mother’s mother homeland gives me a nostalgic sentiment. Imagine taking a sweet girl with a Chinese-TV-series-actress appearance like Yen Phuong to see your grandmother, wouldn’t she be proud? Even my dead grandmother would be glad to witness that in heaven.
Tra Em Cay Dang Mong Vang is an album that could bring listeners the aesthetic beauty of Viet Nam no matter where they are in the world, even in the caves where Bin Laden is hiding, and all they need is an iPod. I can’t even remember how many times I rocked this joint back-to-back when I first copped it eight years ago. The music is still fresh every time I come back to it for an experience of escapism.