Nguyen Vinh Tien’s Giot Suong Bay Len was a phenomenal debut thanks to Ngoc Khue’s extraordinary performance. The architect/songwriter continues to explore the contemporary-folks direction on his sophomore Ngoi Tren Vach Nang, but without Ngoc Khue.
What obviously missing on Ngoi Tren Vach Nang is Ngoc Khue’s playful idiosyncrasies, the unique elements that made Giot Suong Bay Len so damn hypnotic. Even the elastic Tung Duong is so rigid on “Mot Hat Com Nho.” He doesn’t bend notes or toy with words the way Ngoc Khue would have done. Although Trong Tan’s voice is very charming and he has done a great job of controlling his obstreperous vocals, I can’t help but imagining what Ngoc Khue would sound like on “Ong Toi.”
Anh Tho is the only female vocalist on the album, and she only contributes one track, yet her performance stands out. Her high, crystal-clear soprano floats like ghost passing through glass on “Song Oi Dung Chay.” Tuan Anh (not the weirdo one) is the main singer who is responsible for five of the album’s eight tracks. He has a warm falsetto that is perfect for romantic ballads, but he could also work his way around Nguyen Vinh Tien’s folksy tunes, particularly “Chon Hoang.” Tuan Anh rides in and out of the exhilarating arrangement that made up of both old and new sounds.
What makes Ngoi Tren Vach Nang pulled through is the excellent production. Phan Cuong has done an exceptional job once again behind the board mixing and weaving electronic beats with Vietnamese traditional instruments. Still the album isn’t quite like the one-of-a-kind breakthrough without Ngoc Khue.