Besides Tuan Ngoc, Nguyen Khang is the only hope left for the male vocalist in the Vietnamese-American music scene. And no, Nguyen Khang does not imitate Tuan Ngoc. That’s an erroneous statement I have heard and read over and over again. So let me set the record straight. Tuan Ngoc is a technical master. He could make a straightforward ballad like Dieu Huong’s “Vi Do La Em” sounds complicated with his skillful delivery and vocals manipulation. The only drawback is that average listeners would have a hard time absorbing it. How many times have people complaints that Tuan Ngoc is boring? On the other hand, Nguyen Khang simplifies his performances and allows his emotion to pour into the songs. His technique is not to use technique; therefore, his style is accessible to a broader audience without suffering the aesthetic values.
What I find interesting about Nguyen Khang is that he could bring a new dimension to timeless standards as well as providing a raw, unique quality to popular tunes with his dark, throaty, and broody voice. In his new album Dong Doi, released by Asia Entertainment, he revives Frank Sinatra’s classic “My Way” in a Vietnamese rendition translated by Nam Loc, and reinvigorates Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang” (Vietnamese lyrics by Pham Duy) with the help of Diem Lien. I rarely find translated tunes to be listenable, but the lyrics in these two tracks are well crafted, the vocals are tight, and the arrangements are refreshing, especial “Bang Bang,” which comes with three different flavors.
Truc Ho is undoubtedly a talented producer, and also a reputable songwriter. The problem is that he always spoon-feeds Lam Nhat Tien, even though the whippersnapper has not been able to articulate Truc Ho’s compositions to their fullest potential. Thank goodness, Truc Ho handed his weeds to the right carrier this time. With a bohemian style, astringent voice, and unconstrained flow, Nguyen Khang delivers “Nho Den Em,” “Chang Khac Gi Nhau,” and “Neu Khong Co Em” the way they should be: powerful, thoughtful, and soulful. In Vu Tuan Duc and Truc Ho’s “Nhung Dieu That La,” Nguyen Khang rides effortlessly inside the tasty keyboard licks and swinging programmed drums.
Out of the three guests—Diem Lien, Lam Nhat Tien, and Vu Tuan Duc—the lady is obviously the ideal companion. Diem Lien’s sweet, tangy voice reflects perfectly with his hoarse, bad-boy’s timbre. Together they soar and sting like birds and bees on Anh Bang’s “Mai Toi Di” (poem by Nguyen Sa) and the savory medley of “Ky Dieu” (Anh Bang, Nguyen Sa) and “Anh Con No Em” (Phan Thanh Tai). With Asia’s unmistakable sound, Nguyen Khang’s gifted voice, and a handful of well-chosen tunes, Dong Doi is not a letdown at all. So don’t beat yourself down, man. The new generation of Vietnamese-American music is on your shoulder. Keep pushing that weight, Khang.