A quick glance at the tracklist on Le Quyen’s Khuc Tinh Xua worried me. It would be a damn shame to witness one of my favorite female vocalists goes down Dam Vinh Hung’s path: fucking up classic sentimental ballads. As soon as I heard the first bar on the opening track, however, my worry was gone. Le Quyen not only didn’t let me down, but she also gave “nhac sen” an elegant makeover.
Le Quyen has learned the art of covering timeless golden tunes. She also understands the challenge of respecting the work and at the same time making each tune her own. In the leadoff track, Truc Phuong’s “Mua Nua Dem,” she bares her soul without being overemotional and expresses the lyrics without belting out her big, smoky pipe. In the second track, Thanh Binh’s “Tinh Lo,” she refined the tune to its core by stripping out the pathos and getting straight to the pain. She sings each word like she lives it. Her version of Hong Van’s “Doi Thong Hai Mo” is not just a threnody. She sings as if she also wanted to buried her soul next to the two graves.
From Y Van’s “Buon” to Tuan Khanh’s “Chiec La Cuoi Cung” to Anh Bang’s “Em Ve Keo Troi Mua” to Minh Ky’s “Tinh Doi” to Tran Thien Thanh’s “Han Mac Tu,” she makes these tunes fresh and “un-sen” with her gentle-but-grainy voice and soulful-but-never-schmaltz delivery. With the exception of the album closer, Anh Bang’s “Ngon Truc Dao,” which ruined by the dull beat, Khuc Tinh Xua is Le Quyen’s most consistent set yet. Some of the productions could benefit from simplicity, but Le Quyen’s voice is right on the money. She had demonstrated how classic ballads should be covered: thoughtful and tasteful.