“It seems like the last three years have been filled with contrasts,” says Katrina Ford, force-of-nature singer in Baltimore’s Celebration. “Fantastical musical adventures against the backdrop of adult crisis.” From this collision of opposites comes the kaleidoscopic Wounded Healer, released through Bella Union on June 2nd, 2017. Drawing its galvanic thrust from contrasting elements, the band’s fifth album is their purest and most richly realised statement yet: intimate and expansive, cohesive and wide-ranging, bruised and restorative.
Since the release of Albumin in 2014, the core trio of Ford, husband (multi-instrumentalist and organ player/rebuilder) Sean Antanaitis and drummer David Bergander have battled in times of struggle to uphold their founding strengths. “Midlife, we find ourselves dealing with bathroom renovations, death and elder care for parents, raising kids, careers, multiple surgeries, and totally fucked scheduling,” says Ford. “But despite it and yet inspired by it all, we have a place to come together and do this thing we love.” That sense of resilient joy bursts out of Wounded Healer from front to end. ‘Rollin On’ erupts in a flurry of soulful vocals, bass swagger and organ-driven sassiness. ‘Velvet Gloves’ is like a Bond theme in waiting, its string-lavished grandeur turning heartache into drama. Elsewhere, ambitious arcs are traced from the melting balladry of ‘Spider’ to the gospel plaint of ‘Granite’, sax-strafed funk of ‘Stevie’, fleet-footed alt-pop of ‘Paper Trails’ and marching-band spritz of ‘Drum and Phife’, which strikes a closing note of think-forward hope. “Let it shine,” Ford sings, “give it time…”.
Celebration gave the album due time to stew, using money from gigs to book studio stints and the downtime between sessions to dream up ideas. Former band-mates Walker Teret and Tony Drummond were instrumental in helping to lay its foundations, until Drummond left to work on his solo album and Teret left to tour with Lower Dens – both with Celebration’s blessings. Doors were flung open for guests to add piccolo flutes, tubas and strings. Besides Teret and Drummond, some 17 extra musicians stepped in, eight of them singers. Among the voices are self-styled “obscure Americana” duo The Twanger Sisters (on ‘Freedom Ring’), Lauren Shusterich of noise-pop mavens Wildhoney (on ‘Granite’ and ‘Stevie’) and Samuel T Herring (on ‘Paper Trails’) of Future Islands, the Baltimore-based break-out heroes whose touring/recording ties to Celebration go way back.
What emerges is an album emboldened enough by core group bonds to open its arms in a spirit of full-blooded generosity. And if the result ranges rich and wide, the tight knot of contrasts in its title lends Wounded Healer its force of cohesive conviction. “Only when the name came to us did I understand this was a medicine record,” Ford explains. “Most of the songs were written a while ago. Some of the feelings experienced when written have changed context over time. They have evolved towards healing or resolution.” And, perhaps, towards an album that cuts to the quick of what Celebration are about, as Ford elaborates. “I’d like to think we paint emotional landscapes, maybe a theatrical version of real life in broad strokes. A musical revival tent… electric church. Turning the hard times into sermon, tales of redemption and homecoming. Licking the wounds and tending to the den.” On Wounded Healer, that sounds like the kind of tonic we could all use right now.