Boomkat Product Review:
Unmissable first showcase of pioneering Vietnamese rock ’n bopper Phương Tâm; a real labour of love compiled by her daughter and the Sublime Freq’s, all bubbling over with catchy rock ’n roll, blues, jazz, twist and surf nuggets
‘Magical Nights: Saigon Surf, Twist & Soul (1964-1966)’ spans dozens of songs written a lifetime ago, when Phương Tâm blazed a trail of US-influenced songwriting, which she promptly left for family life after only a few years. It was only in 2020 that Phương’s daughter, Hannah Hà, now in the USA, began to fully uncover her mother’s fantastic - if short lived - pop and rock career, leading her to Sublime Frequencies via their much-loved collection ‘Saigon Rock and Soul’, where Phương’s ‘Magical Night’ is a centrepiece, and whose title lends itself to this archival bonanza. Reaped from far flung collections thanks to the efforts of Hannah, plus Mark Gergis and a network of proper diggers, its 26 songs speak to Phương’s remarkable range which saw her in high demand at Saigon nightclubs and a regular in the recording studio, penning songs that would become popularised by others years later, after she exited stage left to marry her love and start a family, still against the backdrop of the Vietnam war.
After 55 years, Phương encountered many of her recordings for the first time since they made, thanks to the compilation process. Including 25 of her known 30 recordings, the set proves her natural dexterity at both driving, early rock ’n roll, and a fine vein of sultrier jazz soul ballads, and crucially with influence from traditional Vietnamese melodies in parts. We find ourselves most snagged on the likes of her strolling bewt ‘Đêm Huyền Diệu’ with its haunting woodwind and choral backing, and likewise the smokier sashay of ‘Ngày Phép Của Lính’ or ‘Buồn Lên Thành Phố’ and ‘Lá Thư’ just drip with timeless elegance, whereas the likes of her slinkily infectious ’60 Năm’ and the reverberating surf rock licks of ‘Tình Mơ’ surely scream late night good times.