Quynh Hoa – Romance

Quynh Hoa’s latest release, Romance, is thankfully not an English album sung by a heavily accented Vietnamese singer. The title suggests the romantic vibe of Ha Noi since most tracks, including Tran Tien’s “Ha Noi Ngay Ay,” Nguyen Vinh Tien’s “Thu Ha Noi” and “Cafe Ha Noi,” were written about the city.

Romance kicks off with Nguyen Cuong’s “Vuon Em Dem Qua No Mot Canh Mai.” The track begins with a few hypnotic electric bass lines then follows by sweet, melodic Vietnamese flute. As soon as Quynh Hoa’s sultry, smoky contralto joins in, you know you’re in for a fantastic ride. Tran Tien’s “Ha Noi Ngay Ay” gets a gorgeous electric makeover complemented with savory keyboard touches and sensuous saxophone licks. What makes the track stands out is Quynh Hoa’s effortless delivery no matter how fancy the arrangement gets. Her low notes in particular are so damn seductive, noticeably on the piano-only accompaniment of Nguyen Vinh Tien’s “Thu Ha Noi.”

The spellbind breaks when she tries to tough up her pipe on Nguyen Cuong’s “Bien Dau Buon Den The.” Her flow is stilted and her vocals are rough as if she wanted to sound like a badass. The good thing is that she pulls back on Nguyen Vinh Tien’s “Ha Noi Cafe” and curls her phrasing like smoke around the strumming acoustic guitar. The album closes out with a striking orchestration of contemporary folks on Nguyen Cuong’s “Ho Bien.”

Romance is a much needed change in the endless repetition and unimaginative direction of the current Vietnamese pop scene. Mad props to Minh Dao for some fresh arrangements as well.