Dalena & Don Hồ: Oh My Sweet Love

I had always been attracted to French romantic ballads. The melodies were beautiful and French was exotic, but I never paid much attention due to the language barrier. I only began to appreciate French ballads more when I started listening to Dalena and Don Hồ’s Oh My Sweet Love in Vietnamese and English.

I didn’t (and still don’t) know who translated the lyrics into Vietnamese (no credit was given in the album sleeve), but I loved Dalena’s English translations. Musically, Dalena and Don Hồ were a perfect match. His smoky baritone harmonized with her sweet alto. They both sang in choir before becoming solo singers; therefore, they complemented and backed up each other like two lovely doves.

The opening duet track is an example of their wonderful collaboration. They covered Christophe’s classic “Main Dans La Main” and Dalena translated his lyrics as “Hand in Hand.” I transcribed her English version here:

I’ll love you and forever I’ll love you
You’ll always my first true love
My tenderness, my delight, and my pain
I possess you inside my heart

Someday we will be
Together you and me
Hand in hand will be ever in love
It’s so good to find
Love like yours and mine
Hand in hand through time ever in love

Her translation was so simple yet so sweet. Without knowing French, I assumed that she stayed as faithful to the original context as possible. Don Hồ followed up with a rock ballad “My Love Please Be Happy,” which was a translation from Art Sullivan’s “Adieu Sois Heureuse.” I still know the lyrics to these tunes by heart because I used to transcribe them to learn English and to sing along. Here is Dalena’s translation:

You, who had never wanted me
You, never took a chance to trust me
You, would not open your heart
You, always kept us apart

You, never tried to understand me
You, never interested in waiting
You, passed by without a glance
You, never gave us a chance

Goodbye, please be happy
Goodbye, I send you sadly
To the one that I see
Your heart chosen not to be

Goodbye, please be happy
Goodbye, and go with blessing
To the one that today
Soon will take far away

When I tried to google these songs to see if I can find her translations online, but I could not find any. I went back and transcribed them again so I could keep them here. It was a quick task because I still remember most of the songs. Here is “Oh My Sweet Love,” Dalena’s translation of Christophe’s “Oh Mon Amour”:

My love had eyes that see the sea
Through torrential rain falling fast
He lost a dream to cotton clouds
That hear him crying as they pass
The day and hour far beyond
Nothing but tears possessed his heart
The tears I caused

Oh my sweet love, please hear me now
Life waits for you to live somehow
Don’t be afraid somehow you must know
I am here to stay, I’ll never go
I’ll give to you all of my heart
All of my love, all of my life

Her lyrics were so straightforward that even with my limited English back then I could still understand the words. But there are some words that I still could not make out even today. In “Love is a Story of Love,” a translation from “La Vie C’est Une Histoire D’amour,” by Christophe, I could not figure out some of the words; therefore, I put brackets around them. She performed this song solo:

In spite of what you may be thinking
I tell you now that my heart is broken
For when you left the night decided never to end
Life for me had just begun when
You took your love and walk away, and
If there is a happy ending
On you it depends

But this is life, it’s the story of love
I love you, I need you forever
Yes, this is life, it’s the story of love
I love you, I need you and ever

As you turn to go away now
Remember this my dying day, how
You took my heart and [like] a way out
Left me for [dead]
You kiss goodbye so freely given
My love so easily abandoned
Though I really don’t understand [why]
Here what you said:

That life is a story of love
I love you, I need you forever
Yes, this is life, it’s the story of love
I love you, I need you and ever

“Tombe La Neige” by Salvatore Adamo is one of my personal favorite French ballads. I have heard countless Vietnamese singers covering this tune, but Dalena’s version still stands out from the rest. The rumba rhythm was just beautiful and her singing was so heartbreaking. I loved her English translation, “Days of Winter”:

I watch the snow fall
It brings memories of you
Our days of winter
Were the happiest we knew

Days we spent together
I thought we’d last forever
Fireside kisses linger
Sparking promise on my finger

Now I sit and watch the snow
I have nowhere else to go
While cold and lonely seeming
I’ve found happiness in dreaming.

I re-listened to this album and it brought so much memories. Don Hồ used to sing with ease and effortlessness. These days, he over enunciates every word, which makes his singing unlistenable at times. At least he is still an active singer. Dalena had already bowed out.

Dalena: Something New

The first time I heard “Oriental Boy,” the lead-off track from Dalena’s Something New recorded for Hải Âu Productions, my reaction was, “WTF, Dalena?” From the stereotypical Oriental riff to the appalling lyrics, I was shocked that she recorded this song. The rap shit was just cringe-worthy:

Karate chop my heart away
Oriental boy, please stay
I’ve seen the east, I’ve seen the west
I can’t decide who I like best
Rock and egg roll chopstick beat
He’s the boy who is so sweet
I’ve seen the east, I’ve seen the west
Now I know who I like best
It’s you, my Oriental boy.

Did Dalena come down with an Asian fever? Did Hải u make her record this horrendous track? Did she write the awful lyrics? Fortunately, it was a cover of a band called The Flirts; therefore, she didn’t write the words. The rest of the album was back to the real Dalena covering pop ballads with her English lyrics. One outstanding track, in particular, is Christophe’s breakup ballad, “Je Suis Parti.” I wouldn’t understand French, but her English translation was clear:

I’m leaving you without regret
Oh the story of love, the time will not forget
I have nothing left. I have nothing left
This song is all. Your song is all.

She croons like a bird with a broken wing. She even breaks down in tears, but stays level-headed. She is leaving his sorry ass with no regret at all because she is done with him like Kim is done with Kanye. That’s my impression anyway.

As for arrangements, Quang Nhật was a decent producer who had created the distinctive style for Hải Âu just like Trúc Hồ had created a unique sound for Asia. It was a loss for the Vietnamese-American music scene when Hải u shut down its production.

I am glad that she tried “Something New” with just one track. So skip the first track and enjoy the rest of the album.

Dalena: Lệ Đá

After my mother passed, I went through her room and found my pictures she had kept. As I flipped through them, I came across a snapshot of me taken with Dalena. The photo made me nostalgic and wondered what Dalena has been up to all these years. Has she left the Vietnamese-American entertainment behind? I tried to google her name, but nothing about her came up. I miss her. Like millions of Vietnamese Americans, I fell in love with “the blond beauty who sings flawless Vietnamese.” Beyond her singing talent, I had a deep respect for her English translations, which seemed to be underappreciated, of popular Vietnamese ballads.

I went back to my CD collection and realized that I have a few of her solo albums and a handful of her collaborative efforts with other Vietnamese singers including Don Hồ and Mỹ Huyền. I pulled out, Lệ Đá (Stone’s Tears), her debut for Thúy Nga Production, and relived the moment. In the opening title track, a soulful ballad by Trần Trịnh and Hà Huyền Chi, she croons Vietnamese with perfect enunciation and offers her own English version:

Just ask the stone how long it’s been
And ask the distance of the wind
Then ask the street lamp in the night
Shine on more your friendly light
For my love has gone away

I am not sure if I transcribed the fourth line correctly, but she deviates from the original lyrics a bit to match the melody of the tune. Her performance is soul-stirring even though the arrangement is just average. Another notable translation is Đức Huy’s “Như Đã Dấu Yêu” (As If We’ve Loved), in which she pours her heart out on the bridge:

You came to me with all of your soul
I came to you with all of my heart
But it’s too late for love meant to be
For love will stay with me always

Dalena taps into Vietnamese hearts and souls all over the world with her rendition of Y Vân’s “Lòng Mẹ” (Mother’s Love). Her English interpretation is as exceptional as her Vietnamese execution:

Mother’s love is deeper than the sea, so wide
Her soul as sweet as peaceful stream inside
Her words on songs are gentle breezes rise
Rock-a-bye her baby in the moonlit night

I couldn’t hold back my tears thinking about my mother when Dalena sings: “With love from morning until night / All through your life she holds you in her heart.” My mother’s love was unconditional in every sense of the word.

Ye’s Music at a Glance

Let’s keep it real. Ye has issues. No, scratch that. Ye has some serious fucking problems. Over the years, his abnormal behavior has become more erratic as his music has become more expressive. It gets to the point where his life and his art are inseparable.

As a fan of his music, I tried to focus only on his work. I didn’t care that he said, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” It didn’t bother me that he hijacked Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech. His support for the Trump presidency, however, was the last straw for me. I was disappointed. I didn’t want to hear his music ever again like I wouldn’t listen to R Kelly (sex predator) or Nguyên Khang (another dumbass Trump supporter). For a while, I stopped listening to Ye’s albums altogether.

These days, I gave in and went back to his catalog. I completely tuned out of his relationship dramas with Kim and Pete. With his breakout debut, The College Dropout, Ye proved to be a conscious rapper with bangers such as “All Falls Down,” “Spaceship,” “Jesus Walks,” and “Never Let Me Down.” I always get a kick out of “The New Workout Plan.” The testimonials are hilarious as hell, especially Ella-May from Mobile, Alabama who had been able to date outside of the family after listening to Kanye’s workout tape.

His sophomore Late Registration follows up with so many gems. The soprano sax in “Drive Slow” is so damn intoxicating. Etta James’s voice is so addictive in “Addiction.” JAY-Z steals the show in “Diamonds From Sierra Leone,” with the line, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.”

With Graduation, Ye tightened up the album experience by leaving out skits. Right from “Good Morning (Intro),” “Champion,” “Stronger,” “I Wonder,” to “Good Life” are all solid tracks. In “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” Ye reveals, “I feel the pressure, under more scrutiny / And what I do? Act more stupidly.” “Big Brother” is such a beautiful tribute to JAY-Z.

808s & Heartbreak is such a unique album. He can hide his voice behind AutoTunes, but he cannot hide his soul. “Coldest Winter,” a tribute to his mother, is just soul-crushing. I love the entire album, except for the live recording, “Pinocchio Story,” which felt out of place.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy starts strong right out of the gate. From “Dark Fantasy,” “Gorgeous,” “All of the Lights” (I love the interlude), to “Monster,” there’s so much beauty in darkness.

Yeezus is ten solid tracks from beginning to end and they are hard as fuck. “I’m In It,” in particular, is not even quotable. If there’s any doubt that Ye is not a lyricist, this alum is a testament that Ye is a lyrical genius.

Watch the Throne, Ye matches JAY pound for pound on the lyrical front. I hope that they will follow up the second album in the future.

Let’s face it. Ya is a flawed human and a music genius. Once I separate the artist from the asshole, I can enjoy his work.

Tố My: Cửu Long tình

Tố My không chỉ được nhạc sĩ Phạm Hồng Biển trao cho những tác phẩm của mình mà còn được anh hoà âm cho album Cửu Long tình. Với những nhạc cụ truyền thống, người nhạc sĩ trẻ này đem đến cho người nghe những âm thanh của thôn quê. Từ đầu album đến cuối, giọng hát ngọt ngào của Tố My cùng những tiếng đàn dây tiếng sáo khiến người nhận xét này nhớ đến quê nhà những là vào những ngày tuyết lạnh trên xứ người. “Má thương con hoài” làm tôi không thể không nghẹn ngào:

Má ơi, nuôi con má khổ trăm bề
Từ ngày bầu bì nghén thai
Đến khi lắm bụng quặn đâu không xiết
Từ ngày tập bò biết đi
Đến khi nên người bước chân ra đời.

Thương mẹ Việt Nam quá.

Elvis Phương: Em dấu yêu

Cũng đã lâu rồi không nghe anh Elvis Phương hát. Chất giọng anh vẫn tốt vẫn không thay đổi gì. Ngoài tiếng Việt, anh ca được tiếng Anh và Pháp. Trong album này, chỉ có bài “Amour” anh hát một chút tiếng Anh. Cách phát âm Anh ngữ của anh rõ ràng nên tôi nghĩ anh hát tiếng Pháp của anh cũng OK. Những tình khúc Pháp, như “Tous les garçons et les filles”, “Ell”, và “Hey (Il faut toujours un perdant)”, không xa lạ gì với anh vì lúc ở hải ngoại anh cũng đã từng hát. Riêng “Samba Mambo” và “La Bamba” gợi lại nhiều ký ức cho người nhận xét này lúc mới qua Mỹ. Thời còn trẻ thích nghe nhạc xôi động và tươi vui.

Lê Anh Dũng: Chờ em trên lối xưa

Lê Anh Dũng có chất giọng đẹp lãng mạn như thiếu nét lạ nên nghe cũng trung bình. Lê Anh Dũng hát nhạc của Đức Huy cũng không có gì mới mẻ từ cách hát đến những phần hoà âm. Hai bài song ca với Hà Trần, nhất là “Mùa hè đẹp nhất”, giọng nữ nuốt trọn giọng nam. Lãng phí một cơ hội cho một album.

Phương Loan: Nụ cười anh còn mãi

Lâu rồi không nghe tiếng hát của chị Phương Loan. Lúc xưa chỉ nghe chị hát những liên khúc tươi vui trên Asia và Thuý Nga video cùng với ban nhạc Chí Tài Brothers. Qua Nụ cười anh còn mãi, chị hát những nhạc phẩm chậm và buồn.

Album được mở đầu với tình khúc “Anh ở đâu” (Chí Tài) và chị đã dùng lời nhạc của anh để gửi gắm hết tâm trạng của mình vào đó:

Anh ở đâu, giờ này anh ở đâu?
Ôi nụ hôn nồng nàn ngày ấy trao nhau
Nhưng giờ đây một mình phòng vắng đơn côi
Đêm từng đêm gọi thầm gọi mãi tên anh.

Tiếp theo, chị dùng lời ca của nhạc sĩ Lam Phương qua ca khúc “Trăm nhớ ngàn thương” để nói lên sự mất mát của mình:

Mất anh rồi xa anh rồi
Hoa đã tàn nhụy đã phai
Chiều hôm nay trời thanh vắng
Em đi về, về với ai?

Bài chủ đề, “Nụ cười anh còn mãi” (Hamlet Trương), qua phần song ca của chị và Don Hồ, khép lại album tưởng nhớ người chồng yêu dấu của chị cũng như nhạc sĩ và danh hài Chí Tài:

Cuộc đời anh dành hết cho người
Cuộc đời anh mang đến nụ cười
Một người đi, là để sống trong tim đời đời

Đúng vậy, anh đã ra đi nhưng những nụ cười cùng những tiếng đàn anh đem đến cho đời vẫn tồn tại mãi. Và chị biết anh đang nỡ nụ cười xuống với chị từ trên thiên đàn.

Duy Hưng: Áo nhuộm hoàng hôn

Duy Hưng có chất giọng trầm ấm thích hợp với dòng nhạc thính phòng. Trong Áo nhuộm hoàng hôn Duy Hưng hát lại những tình khúc lãng mạn quen thuộc với những phần hòa âm nhẹ nhàng của Hoàng Minh. Album không có thì nổi trội hoặc đột phá. Hai tác phẩm song ca với Diệu Hiền khiến cho album đỡ đơn điệu. Chỉ thế thôi.

Phan Thu Lan: Đừng phá vỡ ân tình

Dường như phong trào hát nhạc ngoại lời Việt đang trở lại. Qua Đừng phá vỡ ân tình, Phan Thu Lan covers lại những ca khúc tiếng Pháp với những phần hoà âm được đầu tư kỹ càng hơn. “Hãy đến với em” được nhạc sĩ Tấn Phong phối theo giai điệu jazz say sưa. Tiếng muted trumpet sắc bén như muốn cắt đi những nỗi buồn vắng bóng người yêu. “Tan tác” được thêm vào một chút Latin flavor với tiếng sáo nồng nàn và “Tìm lại dấu yêu” được lã lơi với điệu bossa nova. Chất giọng của Phan Thu Lan cũng rất tốt và cô biết cách uyển chuyển những nhạc phẩm quen thuộc này để làm một chút mới mẻ. “Tuyết rơi”, “Yêu nhau đi”, “Chuyện tình yêu”, và “Tình nồng cháy” khiến người nhận xét này quay về với những thiệp niên 90 lúc ca sĩ trẻ hải ngoại hát những nhạc phẩm này.