In my review of Trinh Hoang Hai’s previous release, Bien Hat, I mused on his vibrato: “[H]e sings like a man in constipation trying to push and pull his way through.” Mr. Trinh took my criticism and put it to work on his new Trinh Cong Son songbook, Bien Oi. The result is much more pleasurable even though he hasn’t abandoned the technique entirely.
The album starts off with “Ru Doi Di Nhe” in which Mr. Trinh accompanying himself with an acoustic guitar. Right off the opening notes, he tries to control his vibrato, but like he has admitted, “I found to be hard to stray away from my poor habit.” On “Mot Coi Di Ve,” one can hear that he worries too much about techniques. He begins with “Bao nhieu nam roi con mai ra di” and without a pause he picks up “Di dau loanh quanh cho doi moi met.” Beside Tuan Ngoc, not too many Vietnamese singers could pull that off. He doesn’t need to though. He just needs to take his time and rest as long as he pleases because the empty space is as important as the singing notes. After all, Trinh Cong Son’s music encourages singers and listeners to reach deep inside his lyricism. On the Zen-like “Toi Dang Lang Nghe” for example, Mr. Trinh should slow down his phrasing, focus on the words, listen to his surroundings in order to feel the stillness of life.
I am in no way of indicating that Mr. Trinh doesn’t soak up Trinh Cong Son’s lyrics. In fact, it is quite the opposite and he should have use his experience toward his advantage. “Xin Tra No Nguoi” and “Cat Bui” are the two tracks that he means the words he sings. Unlike Tuan Ngoc’s above-octave version of “Xin Tra No Nguoi,” Mr. Trinh stays in his comfortable range and just lets his throaty voice reveal the emotional depth. The texture in his voice and the effortlessness in his delivery bring out the fate in “Cat Bui.”
Except for the opening track, Dang Khoa is responsible for the arrangements. On the title track he combines Vietnamese instruments with semi-classical orchestration, but not too effective. Other than some nice bluesy notes on “Mot Coi Di Ve,” but nothing stands out. The new age vibe doesn’t blend too well with “Loi Buon Thanh.” Trinh Cong Son’s compositions are best kept simple and intimate.