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Thu Phương – Hà Nội và Tôi

A reader reminded me that I haven’t written a Vietnamese music review for a while. It’s true that I have been extremely busy and my focus had been on the election in the past couple of months. The real reason for the hiatus, however, is that I haven’t heard any Vietnamese album worth writing. I simply got tired of uninspiring pop formulas that polluted the airwave and I also want to stray away from negative criticism. That way I can save my words and time on albums that truly deserve the praise, like Thu Phương’s Hà Nội và Tôi.

Although the concept of Hà Nội has recorded numerous of times including Hồng Nhung’s classic Đoản Khúc Thu Hà Nội, Thu Phương is capable of carrying her own emotion and memories of Hà Nội. From the title track to “Hà Nội Ngày Tháng Cũ” (Song Ngọc), “Hà Nội Ngày Trở Về” (Phú Quang), “Hà Nội Mùa Vắng Những Cơn Mưa” (Trương Quý Hải & Bùi Thanh Tuấn) to “Hướng Về Hà Nội” (Hoàng Dương), Thu Phương has the city locked down. Every corner, every street and every scent come to life in her introspection.

Yet the most personal to Thu Phương has to be “Mong Về Hà Nội” (Hoàng Dương), in which listeners can feel the yearning of childhood when she sings, “Tôi mong về Hà Nội / Tìm lại tiếng ve ngày trẻ dại.” While the bossa-nova flavor gives Trịnh Công Sơn’s “Nhớ Mùa Thu Hà Nội” a fresh new vibe, I wish she stays with the piano solo in the intro throughout the song. The simplicity is just too damn captivating. The only throwaway track is Nhật Trung’s “Tìm Về Phố Xưa,” which samples the bass lines of The Police “Every Breath You Take.” Thu Phương probably throws Nhật Trung a bone for his arrangements on the album.

With Hà Nội và Tôi, Thu Phương once again demonstrates the craft of album concept and the art of storytelling. Unlike her peers, she has yet to let the bar down and for that she remains one of my favorite Vietnamese artists.

On album design: While the music is high-quality, the CD design is horrendous. Tiến Dũng (DT Media) definitely needs to take typography 101. Setting script typeface on a busy background is embarrassing. The text is so hard to read that he has to put heavy drop-shadow on the type. Even with the text-background, the script type is still not readable. He broke major rules of typography: readability, legibility and widow.