I don’t want to compare Strange Arrangement to any band; I want to compare them to every band. Take a taste of all the jamband scene has to offer, take a taste of all the funk, bluegrass, soul, and blues of the past, and add them up. That is what Polygraph sounds like. The term “poly “meaning “many “is the flavor of this album, many influences, many arrangements and many different ways to get down. From the fun and quirky to the meaningful and profound, Strange Arrangement has brought together a high-quality sophomore album.
I caught their Friday noon-time set at Summer Camp last year (2010). The first thing that strikes you is the keyboards and Joe Hettinga rocking back and forth behind them. I am a Page girl myself, always on the left side of the stage. Surrendering to my Page ways, I grooved on over where Joe and Joel from Umphrey’s McGee were dominating the hot and sweaty crowd. I do believe the Strangement boys would have brought more of a crowd if people weren’t so hot and frustrated as they dragged their camp belongings over to their chosen locations. “Working on the highway sweat sweat sweat” was enough to make me take a break and just enjoy. We could get set up later and one of my favorite parts of Summer Camp is the new music I get turned on to.
That song, Highway, is my personal climax for this album, but that build up and let down is oh-so-much more than just a build up and let down. It’s a musical smorgasbord, a spread of your favorite finger foods that you fill up on at your favorite bar. It’s the mixed nuts, popcorn, and corn chips with French onion, ranch, and taco dip. It’s the album that reminds me of the first summer that changed my musical tastes. It’s that coveted accessory from that summer where you first spiked the lemonade, sat pool side, and popped on the tunes. It’s that first album you bought that isn’t mainstream music. By the end of the summer the sleeve is discolored, water warped, and has a few ring stains on it from beverage coaster use.
The Strangement fellas describe Polygraph as “road tested”. The first song Bed Bugs is a tale of the band’s road trip from Ohio to Charleston, IL, aka Chuck-Town, home of Eastern Illinois University. Pat was driving the van, which he is not used to nor well experienced in. Tom Skilling, the Chicago land area weather forecaster is represented, “the skilling forecast said the front would pass…”. Despite the forecast, the rain did not lift and they continued on swerving left to right through sheets of rain. When they finally arrived at the destination, the hotel room they were put up in had cobwebs in the shower, the door had a hole punched in it, and they were afraid of what lurked in the sheets. That was a breeding ground for bedbugs.
All the songs on Polygraph are done mostly live. The entire recording of the album was done in 2 days because there are not a lot of overdubs or edits. Strange Arrangement went in and did little touch-ups here and there but most of it is recorded live from their shows. Joe Hettinga commented, “About 50% of the tapers at our shows are people that show up and tape for trading, but the other 50% are people with our organization.” They hope to continue that and keep multi-track recordings for future use. They are hoping for as much recording as possible and feel that having more downloads available on archive.org will force them to play different jams every night. In 2010, Strange Arrangement did about 100 shows and hopes to expand this year beyond 120 shows.
A Strange Arrangement live show is different from this album in that Polygraph takes you from road trip stories to road philosophies. When asked about the particular arrangement of Polygraph, Joe Hettinga hadn’t really thought of it. “It’s true there is a more serious tone as far as lyrics and songwriting at the end of the record. But that wasn’t done intentionally.” He went on to explain that no light would probably make its way into a set list if the time on stage was a longer set to give the dancers a break. “If we’re in the middle of a good dance party, no, we’re not going to play no light.” When I asked about their songwriting philosophies, again, the tone of casual lighthearted fun was the standard. Creston and Steamroller are feel-good-fun-songs. “When we were thinking of the bridge and how to create those, it was like, ‘hey I’ll solo for a little bit then you’ and then we’d trade. Very much like bluegrass, just those quick little solos that took us through the bridge.”
Polygraph is the album to pop on when having a couple people over and hanging out in the backyard. They mention hanging out on the back porch in the lyrics a couple times on this album. So I asked:
JR: Do you guys rilly like hanging out on the porch?
JH: Who doesn’t?
JR: My favorite song on the album, Highway, mentions hanging out on the back porch. How did that one make it to the album?
JH: That song was first uttered by my best friend Andy McInerney. Good Irish Name, right? We were just hanging out on the back porch and Andy started singing the “working on a highway, sweat sweat sweat sweat sweat, smoking a cigarette”. Then we started filling in the details like, “working on the highway eating eatin eatin eatin eatin a ham sandwich – with mustard and mayo, mmmmm mayo! Or Camel Light! P-Funk!” And it was born back in 2001. When we played the House of Blues last year 2010, and bust that song out during our set… You should have seen Andy’s face!
Speaking of ham sandwiches, let me lastly mention the album’s title track, Polygraph. As I said before, “poly” meaning “many” can easily be used to describe Strange Arrangement’s sound. However - this song is the ultimate in hammy cheesy fun. Remember that part on the Maury Povich Show when Maury makes the big reveal and says, “The lie detector determined… that is a lie!”? Yes. This is a song arranged, first in jest, as a suggestion for a song from their tour manager Alan Osborne, and then later as a musical masterpiece about getting busted - just like those poor saps on the Maury Povich Show.