Camille Huyen – Cung Tien Art Songs

A couple weeks ago, a visitor sent me Camille Huyen’s Cung Tien Art Songs for review and the album has become a personal favorite for Duke (my son) and me. Besides Lullaby: A Collection, Art Songs could put both of us to sleep, rain or shine. Dana drove us to Duke’s Gymboree class earlier today and both of us in the backseat knocked out listening to the album by the time we arrived.

As sleepy as it sounds, Art Songs is a genuine work. The tracks on the albums are so intimate that they required undivided attention, preferably in a quiet area with the lights dimmed. With minimal arrangements, the music is all close ups. Camille Huyen was born in Hue and although she is currently living in Switzerland, her exquisite central accent has yet escaped her. With a trio (led and orchestrated by her classical guitar teacher Walther Giger) backing her up, Camille Huyen transfers Cung Tien’s compositions to a whole classical level.

On “Doi Bo” she floats her haunting, deep-sorrow alto into Quang Dung’s lyrics while the picking guitar reflects her forlorn. Another mesmerizing track is also based on Quang Dung’s poem “Ke O.” Love the way the guitar responds to the voice as if it feels her sadness. In fact, most of the songs are accompanied by an acoustic guitar with a few exceptions like “Vet Chim Bay” and “Khoi Ho Bay,” which included hypnotic double bass from Fumio Shirato and doleful violin from Noriko Kawamura. What makes “Khoi Ho Bay” a guilty pleasure is Nguyen Tuong Giang’s erotic lyrics: “Nho em nguc nho moi ai ngam / Mat ngot tran gian huong ngat ngay.” Nguyen Ngoc Bich has translated, “Your [small breast] where my lips come to anchor / To taste in ecstasy the honey of the world.”

The tracks are so consistent that you either listen to the entire selection or not at all and if you listen to it passively like we did, you will end up falling asleep. Although Art Songs released three years ago, it is the freshest Vietnamese album I have heard so far this year due to the endless cover of old songs with nothing new that is dominating the pop scene.