Dam Vinh Hung once said on his liveshow Trai Tim Hat that he likes to slip one or two nhac tru tinh (lyrical music) into his albums for older listeners. In the past seven albums, he has been singing his lung out for his young audience. With Tinh Ca 50 (Vol. 8), however, he devotes the entire album to his fans’ moms and pops by crooning only old standards. The “50” part of the title makes it clear that the album is dedicated to the five-oh generation; however, his die-hard fans can still purchase the record and enjoy it with their parents. Isn’t it just lovely? Mr. Dam is bringing the whole family together. The only problem is, can the parents tolerate his thunderous style?
Dam Vinh Hung is still Dam Vinh Hung. From Anh Bang’s “Hoa Hoc Tro” to Ngo Thuy Mien’s “Ban Tinh Cuoi” to Hoang Thanh Tam’s “Thang 6 Troi Mua,” he does not treat these timeless tunes any gentler no matter how sweet and charming they are. He’s a belter, and that is his forte. I don’t find his vociferous performances to be striking anymore because his timbre is getting way too harsh and losing some of its sensational quality. Do Kim Bang’s “Xin Diu Nhau Den Tinh Yeu” proves that his vocals have deteriorated over the years. His earlier rendition, which could be found in Binh Minh Se Mang Em Di, was breathtaking. His phrasing was natural, and his technical skill was immaculate. The jazz-inflected arrangement was compelling, especially on the break where the saxophone became harsh and expressive. On the latter version, he drags the lyrics longer, and he gasps for air on every line. The rock-inflected production does not do him justice either.
When he turns his loudness down a notch, the result is compelling. For instance, I find his duet with Hong Ngoc on Nguyen Vu’s “Loi Cuoi Cho Em” to be spontaneous. The production is exhilarating, and their voices are stimulating on the hook. It is certainly much better than their previous collaboration on Duc Huy’s “Nhu Da Dau Em.” Still, the most interesting performance on the record is Nguyen Van Khanh’s “Noi Long.” His languorous voice curls like smoke around the intoxicating bluesy arrangement. With strange delivery and bizarre phrasing, he gives the tune an invigorating rendition. He should develop this unconventional style furthermore.
As much as I enjoy some of these refreshing sounds, it is problematic with the sudden trend of young singers recovering old songs. Within two months, we see three albums released—Thanh Thao’s Bay Ngay Doi Mong, Cao Thai Son’s Le Da, and now Dam Vinh Hung’s Tinh Ca 50—with not only similar approach, but also with exact same songs. “Loi Cuoi Cho Em” featured on both Thanh Thao’s and Dam Vinh Hung’s. Both Tran Trinh’s “Le Da” and Pham Dinh Chuong’s “Mong Duoi Hoa” appeared on Dam Vinh Hung’s and Cao Thai Son’s. Is Vietnamese popular music going backward? Or are we lacking of new music? Is the music scene in Viet Nam becoming like Thuy Nga and Asia productions? If that is the case, musicians need to get off the treadmill and start jogging forward.