Tuan Ngoc – Vi Do La Em

Tuan Ngoc is still the king of Vietnamese ballads. On the title track of Vi Do La Em, he heightens Dieu Huong’s standard with his dexterous delivery. He starts off the first two bars with an exotic-gruffed, low baritone then gradually moves into his archetypal, superb phrasings. The changes are subtle but electrifying. As if he could color the timbre of his voice, stroke a gradient from dark to light, and progress from frostiness, “Khong can biet em la ai,” to fondness, “Ta yeu em bang may ngang bien rong.”

Tuan Ngoc does it again on Ngo Thuy Mien’s “Noi Dau Muon Mang” just like what he has done with “Rieng Mot Goc Troi.” He soars like a bird with a broken wing, especially when he ends with, “Em co hay khi mua thu toi, ta mat nhau mot doi.” From Nguyen Dinh Toan’s “Can Nha Xua” to Dieu Huong’s “Phien Da Sau” to Chau Dinh An’s “Tinh Khuc Mot Ngay Buon,” his execution remains undisputable: the breath control, the sophisticated rhythmic sense, and the immaculate intonation.

Together with his sister Khanh Ha, Tuan Ngoc refreshes Doan Chuan and Tu Linh’s ballads with an intoxicating, blues-inspiring medley and rejuvenates Vu Thanh An’s standards with a mid-tempo flavor. Often time, Tuan Ngoc can’t ride groovy beats, but Khanh Ha pulls him on board with her. He also seems to like the technique of singing two separated songs simultaneously when performing with someone else. The method works well on Vu Thanh An’s medley because they both have an astonishing sensibility for harmonic. The effect is sumptuous when Khanh Ha’s full, flawless vibrato balances with Tuan Ngoc’s free-floating falsetto on the overlapping delivery, and they know how to stay out of each other’s path.

Vi Do La Em is a solid album because of Tuan Ngoc’s music selection. He knows how to make a song his and how to express the lyrics as a personal statement. For instance, many singers have succeeded in performing the title track, but none has brought a new dimension to it like the way he does. He is a virtuoso interpreter of ballads.