Monica Pasqual’s new album, Is Fortune A Wheel, produced with her band The handsome Brunettes, is amusical journey into the heart of courage. Stunning in its power, cathartic in its depth – Is Fortune a Wheel is a musical triumph born from the ashes of grief while she watched her partner of 17 years disappear before her eyes from degenerative brain disease. It transfixes you like no other music can.
Eleven songs take you on the voyage that she took – not only through the stages of grief in time and space – but through the stages of growth and acceptance in her own soul. As her partner’s mind, memories and very essence faded like rising steameven as she cared for him, her musical career with the band Blame Sally and her own solo albums was skyrocketing. Pulled apart emotionally and logistically, she was forced to realize that she could not be all things – the caregiver, the miracle worker, the entertainer. This album chronicles the loss she suffered, the grief she endured, the decisions she made and the emotions they ignited.
The album opens with the title song swirling around the slow recognition that something is wrong, a recognition that came to her walking in the Spanish Hills near her sister’s home. It sets the tone with an ethereal cello and distant thunder blending with Pasqual’s piano and a feather-touch brush snare drum layering addictive measures with a cloud of foreboding, painted with her anxious voice. “Took what’s yours. Took what’s mine” she sings as the story unfolds. “Swans Way” tells us straight out that “I don’t know what I want”, picking up the tempo– as if she is looking here and there, desperate for a solution, a way out.
But there is no way out; the blues rock-tinged “Golden Cuff” tells us “There ain’t no key to unlock the golden cuffs”. However there is an escape to the past in “Wild”, reliving the love that began long ago but was now disappearing into neurodegenerative black hole. “Wild” spins and churns with a piano scaffolding, cello colors and jazz drumming bringing back the life now gone.
Pasqual ‘s hypnotic vocals, urgent lyrics and majestic piano take us through her family’s hills in Grenada, the memories of love, the conflicts of duty and joy in “1969”, “Down by the Mill” and “Strings in My Human Heart”. Then she blends pop beats and aching keys in “Uma Uma” to swing you in orbit around the waning moon of her lover before she plunges you back to reality in “Steam”, the pieces of her broken heart evaporating like steam in her wake.
Final acceptance of their joint fate – his disappearance and her loss – breaks through in “Saint in the Yard” but is cushioned in “The Color Blue is Everywhere” as she closes the book with a spiraling song that tells us “The color blue is everywhere /She said I should dive in /Has come the time to face my fear”.
Is Fortune a Wheel, Pasqual’s third album, was recorded at Opus Studios with the core musicians all in one room to capture the energy of the live trio. She then took these core recordings into the studio and worked with her co-producer BZ Lewis to add more layers of guitar, bass, and looping whilebringing in Velvy Appleton to play additional guitar. The final result is so potent thateveryone who listens to it all the way through will slowly put down their headphones after the last note of “The Color Blue is Everywhere” has faded and sit for a moment to absorb Pasqual’s grief and catharsis.
Monica Pasqual is known and loved by thousands as the pianist and sky-high singer in the folk-rock band Blame Sally. Her flawless and deeply emotional piano chops are an integral part of the band’s unmistakable sound, while her wide-ranging voice – from operatic highs to blues belt lows – underlies Blame Sally’s trademark heart. But Pasqual’s solo albums, are on a level of their own. Is Fortune a Wheel” is classic while urgently in the moment. While Pasqual has been critically complemented – her last album, This Cold Desire, won the 11th Annual Independent Music Awards for Best Concept Album and two songs won in the Best Eclectic and Best Story categories – it is far past time that national audiences, media and writers are introduced to her as one of the most talented and influential artists in the nation’s music scene today.