Ngọc Hạ – Ngày Xưa Hoàng Thị

At this point in her career, Ngọc Hạ needs no introduction and if you have been following her work for the past 14 years, her newest release is what you would expect from a smart singer with a powerful voice and versatile styles. Ngày Xưa Hoàng Thị is another solid album with some outstanding arrangements, noticeably from Đồng Sơn. His contemporary-folksy production for “Giận Mà Thương” is unmistakable. His clever use of electric beat with traditional instrument provided a savory backdrop for Ngọc Hạ to lay down her delicious central dialect.

Ngọc Hạ’s take on Diệu Hương’s “Mình Ơi” is another delightful demonstration of her ability to sing in Huế’s accent. Obviously Phạm Duy’s music has a special place in her heart. She carried the title track, “Tóc Mai Sợi Vắn Sợi Dài” and “Em Lễ Chùa Này” with soul and sensation. In fact, the entire album is top-notch as if she wisely picked only the most perfected records. No flaws and fillers are allowed in this album in term of song choice and vocal delivery. A few productions aren’t so great though, particular “Cô Nữ Sinh Ðồng Khánh” (Thu Hồ), which featured very mechanical rhythm section with irritating, fake-ass horn lines.

The main problem with Ngày Xưa Hoàng Thị, as well as her earlier works, is that Ngọc Hạ has yet to master the art of creating an experience. Each track stands out own its own, but collectively they don’t make a coherent album. For example, both “Giận Mà Thương” and “Mình Ơi” put listeners into central zone, the next track, “Paris Có Gì Lạ Không Em” (Ngô Thụy Miên), cuts to the city of love. The sudden change of mood, style and location is quite disorienting. The listening experience would have been much more pleasurable if she narrowed the concept down to just traditional, Huế-centric vibe. I am also surprised that she hasn’t make a Phạm Duy’s album.