The best part of Thanh Lam and Tùng Dương’s new release, Yêu, is the spellbinding orchestral work. Lê Phi Phi’s elegant, captivating arrangements, which lift the vocalists to a higher level, stand out by themselves. In fact, I hope they would release an instrumental version of this album for pure classical pleasure. In particular the magnificent orchestration of Phạm Duy’s “Kiếp Nào Có Yêu Nhau.”
Vocal wise, Tùng Dương has done an exceptional job of delivering Nguyễn Văn Túy’s “Dư Âm” and Phạm Duy’s “Ngậm Ngùi.” His phrasing is at the borderline between technical and emotional, noticeably the use of vibrato in “Dư Âm.” Although the technique is an obvious influence from Thanh Lam, he knows not to abuse it. As a result, he is still listenable.
On the other hand, Thanh Lam’s overuse of vibrato is irritating. In Cung Tiến’s “Hoài Cảm,” she applies the technique in every bar. I must admit that I have this issue with her for the past few years already and can’t seem to get past it. I am starting to wonder it might just be me being an asshole about it; therefore, I revisited some of her earlier works to see if I am just hearing things. Re-listening to both Tự Sự and Ru Mãi Ngàn Năm confirmed that she treated vibrato with subtlety and her phrasings were clean. She ended each bar without extra emphatic. The precision in her delivery not only made her a strong vocalist, but also a woman with authority. She didn’t fuck around.
Now the excessive sentimentalisms in her delivery make her sound whinny, uncertain and fabricated. Nguyễn Ánh 9 was spot on when he criticized her performance of “Cô Đơn” as a theatrical act more than conveying the lyrics. Even though she pulls herself back on this version, she didn’t go not far enough, especially on the high notes. I wish she could strip all that out and refocus on the emotional core once again.
Aside from the technical annoyances, Yêu is a solid record. Their duets on Phạm Duy’s “Kiếp Nào Có Yêu Nhau,” Cung Tiến’s “Hương Xưa” and Văn Phụng’s “Yêu” are compelling. Tùng Dương turns out to be a much better musical partner for Thanh Lam than Trọng Tấn and Đàm Vĩnh Hưng.