I must thank Duy Cuong for the luminous Tro Ve Mai Nha Xua (Back to Sorriento) album. I am not thanking him for his remarkable musical talent, but for introducing me to the sweet, soulful, and sensuous voice of Thien Phuong. Although her name is unfamiliar to me, I picked up the record anyway because the credit reads, “Produced, arranged, and mixed by Duy Cuong.” Any recording with his name on it, I can reassure that the musical arrangements are top-notch. The only questioning is the vocalist. Can she drive the arrangements?
As soon as Thien Phuong kicks off the first few bars on Trinh Cong Son’s “Chi Con Ta Trong Doi,” my worries are gone. She not only can sing well, but also is matured in handling Trinh’s materials. She is in control of her phrasing, breathing, and delivering. Through her unrestrained and unforced voice, she connects to Trinh’s music. Her elegant interpretation blows soft air into his “Loi Thien Thu Goi” and “Hay Yeu Nhau Di.”
Normally, I don’t pay attention to translated songs, but Pham Duy is a master of music translation, and he does it with passion and precision. “Chu Nhat Buon” is his translation of Seress Rejso’s “Sombre Dimanche.” The rumor is that someone had committed suicide after listening to this song. I am not sure if that is true, but I do feel tremendous despondency when hearing Thien Phuong performs. Likewise, the title track “Tro Ve Mai Nha Xua,” also translated by Pham Duy from E. Curtiss’s “Back to Sorriento,” provides listeners a sentimental experience through the soothing classical chord and mellow groove. The lyrics speak to those who were tired of the war, and dreamed of returning to their normal life. Thien Phuong makes sure to get the message across by offering attention to each note and each rest.
Thien Phuong is consistent throughout the album. Her singing on Le Uyen Phuong’s “Bai Ca Hanh Ngo” is as natural as living, and she flows effortlessly inside Duy Cuong’s gorgeous beats. On Vu Thanh An’s “Bai Khong Ten So 3,” her timbre is fresh with an ethereal, persuading quality that stands out by itself. She breathes life into Hoang Quoc Bao’s “Xuan Thanh Danh Giac Mong Thuong,” soaks her soul into Nguyen Van Dong’s “Nho Mot Chieu Xuan,” and pours her heart out on Pham Manh Cuong’s “Nuoc Mat Tren Phim Dan,”
Tro Ve Mai Nha Xua is no doubt a masterpiece. The album showcases the dynamic of true vocal and musical talent. This is a timeless and peerless record that could be played from start to finish without touching the skip button, and the looping function may be turned on for savory experiences again and again.