Album Review – Grandpa’s Cough Medicine’s “180 Proof”

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Hailing from the Florida region, Grandpa’s Cough Medicine is not exactly your grandpa’s bluegrass band, but they’re not solely a speed freak punk-gone-bluegrass outfit either. Combining the meticulous and highly-skilled artistry of authentic bluegrass traditions and modes with a punk-ish attitude and tempo, and adding a little bit of ribald and offbeat humor in their lyricism, Grandpa’s Cough Medicine combines many of the best elements of both traditional and contemporary bluegrass into music that above all is just a really fun listen.

The three-piece outfit calls it “outlaw bluegrass” ….or at least they were the first to gobble up that URL before anyone else, and this is probably the best way to describe their version of old time string band traditions served with a rambunctious kick. This is an album of breakneck instrumentals and crazy-eyed humor-tinged killin’ songs like “Van Trip” (rounding up the new girl’s old ex’s), “Blood and Justice” (pedophiles beware), and “Westboro Waltz” (who can’t get behind this one?). There’s also songs that beat heavily around the bush, but never spell out their sexually-suggestive themes like “Brand New .22” and “Denim Prison.”

grandpas-coung-medicine-180-proofThough Grandpa’s Cough Medicine touch on many adult themes, they do it through innuendo, imbibing these songs with a craft and creativity that potty mouths just can’t take pride in. Even though it might shock you to learn this after hearing the entire album, there’s no cussing here. In fact on “A Song For Bass An Banjo,” the cussing is purposely bleeped out. Like the old country innuendo songs of yore, it’s so much more fun hearing these boys dance around their self-censorship than spill it out with nothing left to the imagination.

The standout songs of 180 Proof are the opening title track featuring Hank3, the classically-written soon-to-be bluegrass standard “Mama Played Bass,” and the last instrumental of the album, “Keel’s Reel.” This album covers a ton of ground, has a lot of great texture for a bluegrass project, and touches on a lot of different themes, like the folkish “La La Lolly.” One concern would be that the album probably could have been whittled down from 15 tracks to 12 or so and may have presented a more cohesive and quality project. Though “A Song For Bass and Banjo” is fun (written for bass and banjo to play live when the guitar busts a string), it may be better to leave for the live audience.

180 Proof came about after the band participated in a unique crowd funding festival called One Spark. They performed a total of 25 sets and over 19 total hours of music during the fest, and walked away with the the most votes and a handsome check that allowed them to make the album they wanted. Both the effort they displayed at One Spark, combined with the financial resources their efforts their win afforded can be heard in this finished product. 180 Proof is a professional, refined, well-produced and meticulous album in its detail and scope, resulting in a project that will be the cornerstone of this band’s career.

Grandpa’s Cough Medicine is made up of flatpicker Brett Bass, Mike Coker on banjo, and Jon Murphy on upright bass. All the songs are written by the group, which is an impressive feat with the quality of songwriting and the instrumentals on display. Aiding the trio in this effort along with Hank Williams III is dobro maestro Randy Kohrs who produces the effort. Isaac Corbitt, Jason Carter, and Aaron Till also lend their instrumentation in spurts.

Real deal bluegrass artistry with a little bit of offbeat fun and fast tempo make Grandpa’s Cough Medicine’s 180 Proof a really enjoyable listen.

1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up.

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