I am going to put my head on the chopping block once again on this piece. For a bowl of bun mam, however, it is definitely worth it. Right, Mr. Ducster?
One of Tran Thu Ha’s approaches to renew a ballad is to sing at a faster pace. She did not succeed with Le Minh Son’s “Chay Tron,” but her rendition of Trinh Cong Son’s “Mua Hong” is incomparable. The playfulness is in every bar she pushed. “Con Mua Ha” (Tram Tu Thieng’s lyrics, Truc Ho’s music), however, is a wrong tune to sing in even just a slight up-tempo.
The first mistake is the producer for replacing the slow style with the rumba arrangement. “Con Mua Ha” is one of those tunes that paint a certain image; therefore, slow is a better way to convey the musical landscape. In Don Ho’s rendition, the guitar picks off the first bar alone to emulate the gentle drops of rain in a calm summer night. The violins join in to heat up the setting. Don Ho’s charming voice begins, “Tung hat mua nhe nhu tieng dan,” in a relaxed sentiment and the guitar responses to his vocals as if they could understand each other’s emotion. In Tran Thu Ha’s version, the guitar is swapped out for a cheap electronic keyboard and she kicks off with, “Tung hat mua nhe nhu nhung tieng dan.” The addition of “nhung” is like wordiness in writing. It doesn’t add anything to the context except making the flow more awkward.
The second mistake is that Tran Thu Ha simply rides along with the beat whereas Don Ho melts his flow inside the orchestration. Although she’s a woman, she sounds much stiffer than him, and the best part is that his fluid delivery never comes off as a pussy. One of the basic techniques that throw me off about Tran Thu Ha is her lacking of breath control. Coming from someone as experienced as her is very disappointing. Meanwhile Don Ho lets just enough air into the spared space to give the tune a human quality (something he seems to have lost lately with too much concentration on words’ enunciation), and he could have done it unconsciously based on his instinct.
To be fair, the biggest disadvantage in Tran Thu Ha’s version is in the musical arrangement. Truc Ho wrote the song; therefore, who could produce it better than the composer himself. On top of that, “Con Mua Ha” was written for the film with the same title; therefore, Truc Ho already has a clear vision of how he wanted to deliver from the tone of colors to the tempo of the score. Don Ho was just lucky to pick up the arrangement that previous made for Lam Thuy Van but with the rhythm section added, which make a huge different in term of liveliness. With the bass complementing his low register, all he had to do was pouring his heart out on it, and he did a hell of a soulful job. As for Tran Thu Ha, she is the “diva” who could do no wrong—in other people’s opinion, that is. However, if she could take this tune and reinterprete it similar to what Tierney Sutton has done to “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” I’ll fucking worship the ground she spits on.