Raymond’s Toys & Music, which locates inside Hoa Binh Plaza in Philadelphia, is one of my favorite shops for Vietnamese music. I used to kill time in the store while waiting for my mom doing her grocery in the nearby supermarket. Yesterday I went back for the first time in many years and the place hasn’t changed much. Outside the door, I was greeted with two tables of CDs ranging from trendy pop to Vietnamese opera for as low as $2.50 a pop and a small-screen TV playing Cambodian music video. Paris By Night 102 was blasting inside on a huge flat-screen TV.
What I love about the place is that I could find some original classics for a cheap price. I discovered Peter Zak’s Purple Refrain in the bargain pile for $3 or something. I didn’t know who Peter Zak was, but Purple Refrain was an instant love and has been my favorite Vietnamese jazz album of all time. I could have paid $20 for this album and it is still worth the price. I also found out about Thien Phuong through Tro Ve Mai Nha Xua in this store (though not at a bargain table).
Yesterday I dug through its jungle of CDs and came across Thanh Ha’s Ru Em Tung Ngon Xuan Nong. The back cover doesn’t give any credit to the musicians so I didn’t know what to expect, but Thanh Ha sings Trinh’s music for $5 is definitely a bargain. The three-hour drive from Philly to Fairfax was just awesome thanks to the incredible arrangements and Thanh Ha’s sensational delivery. As soon as I got home, I opened up the album sleeve and bam, Duc Tri was the man behind the project. Ru Em Tung Ngon Xuan Nong released in 2004 and yet I haven’t heard of it until now. I should have kicked my own ass for this, but it’s better late than never.
Ru Em Tung Ngon Xuan Nong puts her recent albums, Chia Khoa Tinh Yeu and The Evolution of Thanh Ha, to shame. The title track is marvelous thanks to Luan Vu’s lush violin and Duc Tri’s luscious keyboard accompanying Thanh Ha’s sexy voice. “Roi Nhu Da Ngay Ngo” kicks off with Nguyen Khang’s smoky intro and Thanh Ha rides the bossa-nova flavor as smooth as CSL-class Benz. Likewise, her bluesy version of “Rung Xua Da Khep” is intoxicating. Love the way she maneuvers her way around the walking bass.
The whole joint is a tight set track for track with no wasted space and no filler. The atmospheric vibe on the exceptional album-closer “Tien Thoai Luong Nan” makes you wish that Thanh Ha would bring back the classic good taste and fuck Evolution.