Out of nowhere—no hint, no buzz, no hype—No, a Tran Viet Tan’s songbook with Thanh Lam and Hong Nhung locking down the vocals, quietly drops into our lap, like some kind of treasure just happened to fall off from the sky. Actually, an album that could pull two of the top female voices together doesn’t need the whole marketing campaign to sell. The work of art speaks for itself. Is this a project in which Thanh Lam and Hong Nhung appear side-by-side to throw their fans a bone? That was my immediate skepticism when I first spotted the album, but after careful listenings, I am convinced that No is a real quality product, and both have invested their soul into it.
Over the years, Hong Nhung and Thanh Lam have defined their distinctive path by continuously refining and modernizing their crafts. Hong Nhung appreciates peacefulness in her Khu Vuon Yen Tinh while Thanh Lam brings the ruckus in her Nang Len. In No, however, they are not pushing Tran Viet Tan’s compositions into any direction, but simply pour their hearts into his works.
Hong Nhung is indelible in “Am Nong.” We can hear the cry in her voice, but she is so good at hiding it, like she is withholding her tears and only gives us a touch of her pain deep down inside—some psychological therapy for our mind. “Em Hong Nhung Rat La” is a tune I have personally requested Tran Viet Tan to pen for me to express my feelings for my Velvet Rose. I particularly insisted on using these two bars, “Ben chieu xua than tho / Giong hat nhe khoi bay.” (Yeah, I wish!) In any rate, the soothing melody is perfect for Hong Nhung’s relaxing vocals. Her lithe phrasings and effortless flows complement both “Ha Noi Em” and “A Oi Tay Me” like oil and vinegar.
Unlike Hong Nhung, Thanh Lam has a huge, husky, and tangy voice filled with deep emotion. In “Dem Ha Noi Nho,” she sports a prodigious technique of holding on to her vibrato to warm up the notes, and then releasing them into the empty air, leaving the piano to fill in the space. The way she hoarsens up her vocals sounds so damn hypnotizing. And of course, her energetic power always promises pain and glory in her delivery. In the title track, “Bat Chot,” and “Em Khong Nho Anh Dau,” she sings gentler, and takes her time to express the lyrics as if she has situated herself into the songs. She caresses the harmonies, massages the words, and efficiently breaks down her virtuoso flows.
Besides the juicy musical content, the album cover design is a clever one too. It provides a hint of both Thanh Lam’s and Hong Nhung ‘s style through their facial expression. The cracked smile on Hong Nhung’s face suggests youthfulness while Thanh Lam’s straight look insinuates genuineness. The direct, frosty gaze in Thanh Lam’s eyes (irresistibly gorgeous) illustrates the fearlessness in her attitude. I have met neither of them in person yet, but the raison d’être in Thanh Lam’s singing and the simplicity (yet filled with sentimentality) in Hong Nhung’s performance have always seduced me. These two women bang my world.