Thai Bao has apparently been around for a while, yet this is the first time I’ve heard of her and it didn’t take long for me to be hooked on her raspy, intimate voice and effortless yet emotional delivery. Her fifth volume, Nghe Giot Nang Phai, is a tight set that could be enjoyed straight through with many savory repeats.
The leadoff track, “Khat Vong Tinh Yeu,” doesn’t impress me at all. The way she stretches the words and her stilted phrasing come off awkward. The silky-smooth sax doesn’t help either. The second track, Diep Minh Tuyen’s “Canh Hoa Luu Ly,” however, is a complete turnaround. She took my breath away with her soul-stirring rendition of the war-sentiment ballad. Accompanied by acoustic picking guitar, she soars like a lonesome bird with despondency and solitude on Thanh Tung’s “Mot Minh.” On Pham Minh Tuan’s “Thanh Pho Tinh Yeu Va Noi Nho,” she pours her heart out on one of the most moving red-music tunes from Viet Nam. (They didn’t grant her the NSUT title for nothing.)
Her version of Ngo Thuy Mien’s “Rieng Mot Goc Troi” comes closest to Tuan Ngoc’s if not as good. Although she couldn’t grab the high notes like him, she could reach the low notes deeper than him. You can feel the complete isolation when she phrases “Toi da choi voi / Rieng mot goc troi.” On Trinh Cong Son’s “Lang Le Noi Nay,” you can hear that she has lived the lyrics and tasted the bittersweet tang of love: “Tinh yeu mat ngot mat ngot tren moi / Tinh yeu mat dang mat dang trong doi.” On Thuan Yen’s “Chia Tay Hoang Hon,” the inexplicable bleakness of her voice makes you want to slit your finger and write “Please don’t go” on a mirror with blood.
Duc Huy’s “Va Con Tim Da Vui Tro Lai” is a perfect album closer. Her voice lights up the dark corners and brings hope to love and forgiveness to life. What makes the album so addictive is that most of the arrangements are kept to the minimal to allow her vocals to do the seductions. The end result is just pure magic. The title of the album is taken from a line from “Rieng Mot Goc Troi” to suggest her voice as “a drop of fading sunshine” but far from waning. To me, her voice is like fine wine that gets better and spicier with age.