Smart Brown Handbag
Record Review by Adam McKibbin
Smart Brown Handbag seem to be a self-deprecating and even self-defeating lot. They claim to be best known for their “almost complete anonymity,” readily admit to still sticking to the same basic pop template they’ve been exploring for the past 15 years or so, and then they have a silly band name, come up with album titles like Harry Larry, and then reinforce it with dreadful artwork—real cut-out bin stuff.
But the band is a keeper—not to mention a survivor. Frontman and songwriter David Steinhart has been swimming in the shifting waters of the L.A. music scene since his days in Pop Art in the mid-80s. His gentle, earnest, accessible style isn’t exactly of-the-moment, though obviously a good melody will never be completely out of fashion (well, hopefully). The band also makes light of their ultra-DIY recording technique, but that’s not really a factor on Harry Larry—it may be more or less homemade, but it doesn’t sound lo-fi. This is indie guitar-pop of a consistently high quality. In fact, maybe it’s that consistency that has played a part in keeping Smart Brown Handbag from getting the sort of attention lavished on lesser pop bands in L.A. over the years; whereas some of those bands will plop one great song on an album of misfires, Steinart and his cohorts (drummer/producer John Glogovac and bassist Cindy Albom) write good songs, and lots of them. No track on Harry Larry hits it out of the park, but there’s also a shortage of fat and filler.
Lyrically, Steinhart is especially adept at chronicling complicated reunions with faded flames. That sort of thing, especially when treated in a confessional and autobiographical fashion, can easily become maudlin, but the juxtaposition of summery pop melodies and a wry worldview keeps Steinhart’s songs relatable and likeable…once again.
More by this writer:
Grant-Lee Phillips - Interview
Tim Fite - Gone Ain't Gone
Ray LaMontagne - Till the Sun Turns Black
Hayden - In Field & Town