Luu Hong is one of the most overlooked musicians in the Vietnamese-American community. If she didn’t collaborate with Ngoc Lan, I would have not known her. The medley (“Lien Khuc Chieu Mua“) that they worked together for Asia Entertainment was breathtaking. The way their voices complemented each other on Trinh Cong Son’s “Nhu Canh Vac Bay” and Nhat Ngan’s “Qua Con Me” was like a smooth blend of an alto sax (Ngoc Lan) and tenor sax (Luu Hong) floated over Asia’s crisp arrangements with endless imagination. I was blown away by their performances.
Obviously, Ngoc Lan was no stranger to me, but Luu Hong was. Her distinctive voice mesmerized me. She had just the right amount of thickness in her vocals that would give any song that she sings some textures. Her phrasings were effortless, and her timings were perfect even though Asia’s beats were faster than the original tempos. Her rendition of “Nhung Doi Hoa Sim” (poem by Huu Loan and music by Chinh Dzung) on the medley was one of the best I have heard.
After listening to “Lien Khuc Chieu Mua”, I determined to get Luu Hong’s solo albums, but could only found one from Ca Dao Productions. Even though I was disappointed by the horrible cover design and the lack of credits (songwriters and producers), I copped Mua Dem Ngoai O anyway because I know the voice is incomparable. I was hoping for the production to be at least decent for her to ride on.
The good part is that the arrangements are sharp. The not-so-good part is that I have heard of them countless times before. I am not even sure how old the album is, but it does not matter because the old tunes bring back good old memories. While the tango joints like “Ai Di Ngoai Suong Gio,” “Ngang Trai” and “Do Chieu” take me back to ballroom floor, the waltz groove on “Tinh Mua Gio” makes me want to whirl around the room like Nguyen Hung and Thuy Van on Da Vu Quoc Te.
Luu Hong’s song selections are romantic ballads (nhac tru tinh). Nothing’s wrong with that. One of her strengths is her ability to maintain her effortlessness when approaching songs like “Diep Khuc Thuong Dau,” “Dang Do” and “Tuyet Tinh.” Her heartfelt emotion is there on the tracks, but her expression is never mournful. A few singers have sing these songs like their worlds have come to an end, and I can’t get with that. On the title track, “Mua Dem Ngoai O,” her slightly gruff timbre hugs around the soothing saxophone giving a vivid image of a rainy night in a quiet countryside somewhere in the west of Viet Nam.
Dem Mua Ngoai O is a delicious set from song to song that could be replayed for savory experiences. I don’t know if Luu Hong is still singing or not. Her voice is hypnotizing, and it would be a darn shame if she has retired.