How can an album be charmingly disarming while exploring deeply sensitive, gravely significant concerns, at the same time? This might be the question to ask of Aaron Karpinka about his latest solo release, “Tender Heart,” an album written and performed from the heart. This collection of ten new tunes composed entirely by Mr. Karpinka reflect his own considerations and musings on what love is, and more importantly, what we choose to do with the love we find in our lives, be that family, friends, or our dearest and most intimate relationships. For to love someone requires an open heart, but to cherish and honour a loved one requires a tender heart.
At first, “Tender Heart” seems deceptively simple in its arrangements and tonality. The songs are performed with a lightness and folk-pop feel for which brother Aaron and Sean Karpinka are well known and loved for. The opening songs, “Tender Heart,” “Live Like Kids,” “Jim and Pam,” and, “I Wish I Was on a Train,” all seemed designed to elevate mood, joyfully expanding the sense and wonder that new found love and commitment bring. These are followed by “I Was Thinking Of You,” which might be considered the masterwork of the album, changing the sense and purpose for which these songs were written. Whoever the inspiration for this song may be, suddenly the previous tracks take another dimension and a profound appreciation for the preciousness of life emerges.
From this point onward, the songs are heard in other ways, actively engaging your own feelings. Sung with such gentle subtlety, the story within “I Was Thinking Of You” reveals a moment of magnitude, weakness, and grace. Karpinka’s vulnerability in voice and composition lend the song gravity and momentousness: “Drove my car to a field and broke down / I was thinking of you … / What will become of him now? / Who will reach out to him now? / The ones who could help him just threw him away.” It is here that Karpinka’s narrative exposes the rawness that comes when something is understood, and perhaps the helplessness that accompanies that insight.
The songs continue to investigate both the surprise and happiness that comes with love during the second half of the album, and the sorrow that comes from loss. Aaron has spoken previously of the impact of his marriage in 2018, and the suicide of a very dear friend. He has suggested that “Tender Heart” tries to expound on both themes, and it is clear that those who struggle in our world are often overlooked and unheard. As a skilled songwriter, Karpinka gives a voice to those who may not be able to. “In Lieu Of Flowers” is masked in a pop groove and production, yet the story it discloses is anything but. “Everybody’s acting like every other day is fine / I feel like the messed up one, admit it that I’m not alright / I’m so depressed and I’m a bit traumatized / But you would always say you were fine until the very day you died… / In lieu of flowers / In lieu of everything,” are lyrics that beg closer review and ask us to ponder. Karpinka has subconsciously shown us something uniquely personal and worthy of respect here, with the subject matter and lyrics seemingly counter intuitive to the music, yet still blends together perfectly.
“Disappear” seems like a continuation of “In Lieu Of Flowers,” with Karpinka wanting us to be more astutely aware of the problems of those afflicted with depression and other mental distress. It is courageous of any composer to highlight such concerns in our world and ask his audience to help contemplate a solution. “Saskatoon” is the closing tribute to his past, his friends, connections, and his hometown. In all of these songs, Karpinka shares a wry humour that is both endearing and inviting: “Well sometimes I take the long way home / Past my elementary school / Where I wore no coat in the winter / Thinking that it made me look cool / How could I have thought that? / When I still had a mullet / With so much dandruff in it.” Of course, these lyrics are a set up for the final stanza in which the truth of “Tender Heart” is brought to the surface, and the final card laid on the table.