From Manchester nightclubs with Mama Kicks to stages across the planet backing Godsmack’s Sully Erna, Lisa Guyer and David Stefanelli have made music together for over 26 years. But it wasn’t until Dec. 1 that they finally released an album of their own.
Stefanelli said in a recent joint interview that the new record, called Message of Love, “was a long time coming,” noting that the process started five years ago.
“We’re in our 50s now, so life kind of had a bit of unfolding by this time. We sat and talked about what kind of stories we’d like to tell,” he said.
Guyer, who said Stefanelli is like a brother to her, disagreed with his timeline, saying the album was in the works for longer than five years. “We started exchanging ideas a good year and a half before that,” she said.
Despite such sibling-esque disagreements, there’s an undeniable musical chemistry captured on the album. The radio-ready “Spirits of 7” and “Now And Forever (Something About You)” along with heartfelt ballads like “On My Own” and “Endless Weight” find the two at a creative peak, seasoned by time.
“Even in a world where in pop culture they write you off after 23 years old, we’re just starting to get it,” Stefanelli said. “This is the good time now.” Guyer agreed.
“It opens the door, coming a little later in life,” she said. “From young to old, your music changes… we’re just getting to that mature message, the things we’ve had to walk through separately and together. Hopefully, poetically.”
Most of the creative process happened in Stefanelli’s rustic home. “Always in the kitchen,” he said, with nothing more than an urge to make music driving them.
“We just wanted to be in that creative state,” Guyer said. “If something comes from it, wonderful, but we don’t care. We just want to create something we can be proud of, share it with some people, and if they dig it too, all the better.”
Freed from expectations and studio costs as they worked in producer Chris Decato’s living room and Stefanelli’s cabin, they indulged in flights of fancy like poetry breaks performed by Drew Robertson — and extended songs.
“What, we’re not supposed to [record those because] they won’t play it on the radio? So what,” Guyer said. “We took all the rules away … that’s what they did in the 1970s, just created. Better things happen when you take that weight off your shoulders.”
Songs came “organically, almost magically at times,” she added. A good example is “Alexandra When,” inspired by a painting done by Stefanelli. It tells the story of an unborn daughter, and an artist’s efforts to paint her memory. “With the stroke of a brush, two worlds collide,” the song begins, a brooding tale of obsession.
“My wife and I never had children, and Lisa has no children — as far as she knows,” he said with a laugh.
“He’s been using that joke for years,” Guyer said.
The idea of parenthood produced a “painting of a faceless child looking out of the window of my living room,” he said. “I wondered, if I ever had a child what would he or she be like, or look like?”
Guyer empathized, having been friends with someone who’d lost a baby late term
“This woman was at a place where that child would have been 18 years old,” she said. “She was ready to let go.”
Beginning with a musical bed from Stefanelli — “he’s always the launcher,” Guyer said — they built a quick framework. Then there was a knock at the door.
“David leaves the table, and I proceed to just write the whole thing in three to four minutes,” she said. “He came back and I started singing and writing. It was ridiculous how it fell into place. It poured out of me. It was almost like I didn’t even know what I had written.”
They hope to perform the new music soon, at area listening rooms, opera houses and other venues.
“We deserve to get out on the road and play these songs,” Stefanelli said. “We already know the musicians we want; we’re gonna keep that a little secret until we tell them, ha ha. But we really want to play this live and see if there’s some machine in gear to help us spread this music.”
Many have heard that New Hampshire musicians Lisa Guyer and David Stefanelli, known from cover band Mama Kicks as well as original music projects like Lisa Guyer Band and RTZ, have put together an album of their own. Their work shows what two hugely talented people can accomplish when they put their huge talents together.
The Lisa & David debut CD Message Of Love reflects true artistry. While both Guyer and Stefanelli have long had to hit the cover bars to make ends meet, they are clearly quite gifted recording artists who can create something of quality that cannot be easily labeled or honestly compared to anything else. Guyer handles the vocals while Stefanelli plays almost every single instrument.
“Spirits Of 7” opens the disc with a burst of Guyer vocal exuberance. She fills this tune with a largeness of voice and personality as she depicts the harrowing life stories of others. A classic rock influenced mesh of electric and acoustic guitars and a smoothly effective one man rhythm section keep this one in motion with a sweeping push.
“Sunrise, Awaken, Moment In The Day” offers a touch of prog rock guitar, a thin line of sublime melodic appeal. A spoken word narrative by Drew Robertson draws the listener in closer with his appealing British drawl. Guyer chimes in after the tasteful instrumental portion, sounding as bright and fresh as ever, moving through her vocal melody with a mastery of voice that few can manage. Perfectly timed sustains and coos fall over this song like a gentle rain of voice and reaches the listener on a persona level.
Acoustic dandy “Alexandra When” finds Guyer in a fine mellow croon. Her gentle assertions, coos, and sustains reveal much vocal range and a lot of sensitivity to what this song needs. Stefanelli’s acoustic guitar hits the listener’s soft spot with an understanding of how music works not merely as notes but as something that expresses the soul of a human being.
“Hamesa” showcases what Guyer can achieve with a chant approach. Her vocal coos, hums, and eventual primitive assertions create a landscape of exotic, sublime beauty. Stefanelli’s intricate percussion work creates a sense of a sacred ritual playing out in a foreign land. It’s intriguing.
“Now And Forever(Something About You)” rides along the smooth rail of a lilting bass guitar line and a subtle percussion progression. Guyer’s vocal work rides the groove with a persistent smoothness that keeps this piece in constant motion. It’s a song that carries one along with its myriad of moving parts, a magic carpet ride to a pleasant destination.
Guyer perfectly finesses the pretty vocal lines to “Endless Weight.” Her voice shines as it coaxes more beauty out of each word with those easeful coos, sustains, and her own persistently perfect timbre. Exotic percussion on the bottom and a light touch of something in between the notes give this work a haunting quality, something that will follow one around after the song ends.
"Saint Cecilia” moves with a 1970s singer-songwriter buoyancy and a class rock edge. Guyer’s vocal work on this one finds her easily straddling the worlds of acoustic rock and meaningful story teller. Stefanelli’s blend of electric and acoustic guitars with a synthesized hum becomes a perfect pillow for the beautiful head of voice that rests upon it. A critic might scratch his head because it’s a song that cannot be fully compared to Joni Mitchell, Heart, Fleetwood Mack, or the late 1970s period of classic rock. The song, and others here, defy category while remaining strong and cohesive.
A down tempo, contemplative piece, “On My Own,” lulls one in with Guyer’s lilting croon and a light touch of flute, acoustic guitar, and drums. She infuses this with a lot vocal flourishes, like adorning with pretty flowers, as an undertow of instrumentation brings one deeper in. There is something pleasantly alluring in the space between voice and flute as well as the way the two travel in contrasting intervals. There is nothing like a song that makes you like it while leaving you uncertain what it is that makes you like it.
“Farewell” continues the fine interplay of voice, acoustic guitar, and other instrumentation. Here, Guyer reaches down deep into her personal feelings then brings it back to the listener with her striking voice. Her subtle switches from gentle crooning to assertive spikes make one feel the impact of what she’s singing. Moody melodies behind her sound natural, as if they’re played on a mellotron rather than synthesizer. A contrast between Guyer’s vocal climb and the sprawling accompaniment behind her keeps us listening to every note.
“Shine On” feels like a personal anthem. Guyer’s gentle croon unfurls something large, deep, soulful. She makes one feel the hominess of this one as well as the mountainous expression it grows into. Guyer also picks the rhythm guitar here, laying out a flinty line that perfectly contrasts with and supports her larger than life vocal. Listening to this makes one feel inspired.
Moving at the same easeful pace as much of this album, “What If We” has more flint in the guitar chords and Guyer sings more in her rocker style. Her pacing pulls the listener along with an assertive sweep. Meanwhile, Stefanelli’s guitar work gives this tune more of an edge. Clearly more in the classic rock mode the two are known for, it’s another wholly fresh and original pace. There’s nothing this nice floating around on radio.
Lisa & David close out their album with “No Secret,” an emotive, down tempo number. A supple accompaniment surrounds Guyer’s depth of feeling, a coupling of sounds that makes one feel the well spring of feeling. Her voice and all around it, subtle organ, a string backdrop, a touch of drum beat, are things of beauty. Listeners will be glad they take their time unfurling this piece.
Recorded and engineered by Chris Decato in a cabin and in a living room, Guyer and Stefanelli have come up with one fine work of art on this Message Of Love album. They have fresh musical ideas fleshed out with their own incomparable talents. It’s not clear what they will do with this musical partnership or how often they will be presenting it, where and when. Yet, their work stands up on the strength of its own high standing merits.