Oak Park native Mary McGuire draws from many influences on new album 

Genre bending

As a whole, Michigan music is about as fractured as a color-by-numbers drawing. There is no singular sound that defines the state, and one could argue that's precisely what makes us such a unique a musical hub, a home for musicians from all walks of life. Mary McGuire exemplifies the ability to roam between genres at will. McGuire, who was born in Oak Park, has spent her life soaking up different styles of music and creating a unique sound by drawing from her inspirations. Her new album, Love Struck, is a charming selection of tunes that are heartfelt and reminiscent of the past — perhaps comparable to Ryan Adams in both those regards.

According to every biography about every musician ever written, music is a genealogical trait. It runs in the family tree — if not directly from the parents, from a grandparent or distant relative. For McGuire, her grandmother played piano for silent films and churches, and her grandfather was a professional piano player as well. Thanks to a neighbor in Huntington Woods and a transfer to a public school that taught band, McGuire picked up the trombone and that was her key into the door of music.

"I'd haul that horn across Woodward strapped to a three-wheeled golf cart because it was too heavy to carry. I'm sure I looked silly to oncoming motorists, but playing that horn was everything to me," McGuire says.

After getting her first guitar at Music Strings and Things in eighth grade, Mary divided her time between lessons for trombone and guitar. She went to Michigan State University and majored in Music Theory with a focus on trombone, but in her 20s, she packed away the old horn in favor of the six string and writing songs.

Most musicians cite one or two musicians who really hammered home music as a career for them. But McGuire had a plethora of influences from many different genres from an early age. "I won all of the Beatles albums on WDRQ when I was 11 years old," McGuire says. "My cousins Cathy and Doris (who were cool and older than me) said I had to learn one Rolling Stones tune for every Beatles tune I learned, so I did. Detroit radio was it for me too, the underground '70s radio scene formed and shaped me. I am a huge Alice Cooper/Dick Wagner/Steve Hunter fan as well as Grand Funk Railroad, Bob Seger, Ted Nugent, Kiss, Aerosmith, Skynrd, Allman Bros. It was the obscure cuts that always drew me in because they would often be the acoustic rock tunes."

Starting from a Detroit radio base, McGuire encountered the world of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young at a party when she was 14. That added a level of folk and singer-songwriter style that instead of replacing the classic rock as her influence, it just piled on and taught her young musical mind to blend instead of forget. Every new artist led her to a different world: She learned about the world of open tunings and Jimmy Page after buying a glass slide. Having to learn all of her favorite cuts by ear, she used her background to create a unique sound at an early age.

From 1981 to 1996, McGuire played regularly in Detroit in the groups Temptress, Ash Can Van Gogh, Spiral Dance, Cosmic Dali, and Dropping Names. After a brief stint in Martha's Vineyard and Boston, she returned with new insights on the music industry.

Love Struck sounds like a compilation effort by one band that has changed their sound over 30 years. You get crooning acoustic ballads like "Song Without Words" full of sadness and love or a song like "TV On," where a distortion-filled electric intro sets a tone unlike the preceding tracks.

"Mary loves and trusts music and so working with her is like being wrapped in a sonic blanket of unconditional musical goodness," her guitarist, Erik Gustafson, says. "McGuire is a fantastic musician who sails along under the radar until she hits that one note or plays that one chord that strikes you right in the gut," media consultant Stacey Sherman says. "Her guitar chops are on par with some of the best players out there and she takes her craft very seriously. Mary is a force in the Detroit music scene and beyond that shouldn't be overlooked."

The album is a narrowed down selection from 14 songs and took a year and a half to complete. Now the only question left to ask is, what's next for McGuire? "I would like to keep recording," she says. "I've played out for a long time and am ready to hunker down and archive the things I've seen through music now. I still love to perform but am looking forward to being a bit more selective about playing out and instead turning my focus to more practicing, writing, and recording. We also have those other songs sitting there at Pearl Sound waiting to be paid attention to and I have a handful of new songs to boot. Hopefully, we will get back into Pearl with Chuck and do another album soon."

The CD release party will take place Saturday, Sept. 12 at Dino's. Show starts at 9:30 p.m.; 22740 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-591-3466; no cover charge.

More by Matt Harmon

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