The Grascals are as capable as any bluegrass band out there these days. They know what they are doing, and they are doing it well. They were the IBMA emerging artists of the year in 2005, they’ve played the Opry, and otherwise spent their time polishing the ensemble and their writing. When I Get My Pay is their 8th studio release, and might well be their best, which is saying something given that all their albums have gained critical notice and places on the charts.
When I Get My Pay is a thoroughly enjoyable romp through some common bluegrass topics: the road, working, broken hearts, hard luck, and fun. (There is also the theme song for a reality TV show, “American Pickers,” a show about antiquing.) The Grascals might be first known for their energy, though some of the best material on this disc are the ballads. “Bluegrass Melodies” is about family and home and includes a few callouts to Bill Monroe. The harmonies are as good as the Grascals have ever done, and the fiddle parts, on that track and elsewhere, work exceptionally well.
The band is from Nashville, and they fall into some of the familiar music-city tropes, including a lap steel guitar and, unfortunately, an electronic piano. Piano is fine, but if you’re reading this, I suspect you might be suspicious of the ability to successfully add piano to bluegrass. As well, I suspect you might not love how the Grascals handle it. An acoustic piano would have helped, and a less soporific approach, as on “Silver Strands,” would have helped too. In all, they are better when they stay closer to traditional bluegrass instrumentation and vocal styles, and thankfully there is a lot of that on this album, as in “Roll On” and “Five Miles to Milan.”
All that said, there is a goofiness to the album cover that I’m having a hard time getting past. Whoever told them to dress up in overalls, slap grease on their faces and stand on a bridge over a rail yard should be fired.
In any case, if you don’t look at the cover, there’s a lot in this collection to love.