Inspired by the critical praises on her recording of Trinh Cong Son’s “Con Tuoi Nao Cho Em,” a simple rendition accompanied by an acoustic picking guitar, Hien Thuc releases Portrait 17, an entire Trinh songbook. Although she is wise enough to pick his less well-known repertoire, she is not smartening up enough to stick with simplicity.
The glossy productions take away the essence of Trinh’s lyricism. The new age vibe on “Chieu Tren Que Huong Toi” is a proof. The electric groove replaces the image of homeland (que huong) with some fantasy planet. Along with the slick r & b beat and Kenny G-style saxophone, her emotionless vocals put “Ve Trong Suoi Nguon” into a lazy afternoon. On the mid-tempo “Niu Tay Nghin Trung,” Tung Duong damn near pushes her off the track.
The turning point of the album is “Cuoi Cung Cho Mot Tinh Yeu” where she returns to acoustic arrangement. The classical-orchestrated “Muon Trung Bien Khoi” would have been exceptional if she could control her breath and eliminated the snoozing sax. The original version of “Con Tuoi Nao Cho Em” is also included as a bonus track. It’s an honest effort, but it is also apparent that Hien Thuc lacks the experience to take Trinh’s music to its fullest. Portrait 17 proves that point.