Phương Vy – Khi Ta 20

Phương Vy’s youthful new release, Khi Ta 20, gives a grown-ass man like me nostalgia. She brings back the era of Don Hồ, Dalena, Thái Tài, Thúy Vi, Kenny Thái and Ý Nhi. What makes Khi Ta 20 sound modern, however, is that Phương Vy and her tasteful, talented musicians reinvigorated the old pop collection by returning to the basics.

The album kicks off with a refreshing rendition of “Tình Có Như Không” (Trần Thiện Thanh). In the past, this tune is usually arranged in a bright chachacha rhythm. In Phương Vy’s version, the song is stripped down to acoustic picking guitar and savory keyboard licks. Phương Vy’s vocal is also cut down to the emotional core, which gives the tune a deeper, thoughtful feel. The follow-up “Em Đẹp Nhất Đêm Nay,” a ballad from Charles Aznavour and Georges Garvarentz with the infamous Vietnamese lyrics penned by Phạm Duy, gets even simpler. The song begins with an electric bass accompanying her vocals and the killing-me-softly-with-his-finger strumming guitar picks up at the bridge.

With “Mây Lang Thang,” which is a translated piece from Sonny Bono’s “A Cowboys Work is Never Done” that most Vietnamese listeners had been mistaken as a Nam Lộc’s original, the producer brings back the hillbilly vibe with the soaring harmonica and a light swing rhythm. Speaking of jazz, “Gặp Nhau Làm Ngơ” gets a hypnotizing bossa-nova makeover. It’s one of the most elegant renditions of Trần Thiện Thanh’s song up to date.

“Khi Xưa Ta Bé” (Vietnamese lyrics by Phạm Duy) is another excellent rework of Sonny Bono’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down).” The tune is reduced to just sensuous piano and guitar in the beginning, but progresses into mid-tempo swing rhythm. The crisp percussion, thumbing bass and sharp guitar are outstanding and they never overpowered the vocals. Glad to see Phương Vy flirts with some scatting. She should explore more into that territory.

With the title track, the producer takes us to Jamaican for a grooving reggae vibe. The acoustic version is also included as a bonus track, but the reggae joint feels more suitable for twenty-something. Khi Ta 20 goes out with “Biết Ra Sao Ngày Sau,” a cover of Jay Livingston’s “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” with Vietnamese lyrics by Phạm Duy). The song starts out with keyboard imitating the wind-up music box sound, particularly the ones with the ballerina goes round and around, then Phương Vy sings with doubts about her future. Although I concur with her mother’s response, “Whatever will be, will be / The future’s not ours to see / Que sera, sera,” Phương Vy has a glorious future ahead of her. Khi Ta 20 is one of the most re-imaginative albums coming out of the Vietnamese pop scene in a while.