For the cover shoot of his new album, Atlanta singer-songwriter Guyton Maurice and friends lugged an actual piano out into the wilderness on a bone-chilling day. Later, when he's asked if it wouldn't have been far simpler just to Photoshop the instrument into the image, the pianist looks genuinely perplexed. Maurice isn't someone who often considers sacrificing authenticity in favor of an easier path. That same level of purity embodies Maurice's new collection of songs on his latest album, "20 Questions." The ten tunes (and one bonus track) take listeners on a romantic trek that's equal parts Tunnel of Love and Love Canal. The singer uses his four-octave instrument to address more complications of the heart than Dr Phil can get to in a week. Throughout "20 Questions," Maurice uses unbridled honesty, wicked wit, soulfulness and sexiness to create a complex, satisfying song cycle about loves lost, found, chipping apart and unexpectedly fusing together. If you were handed a complimentary CD when you checked out with a new love at the Wal-Mart of romance the last time you fell in love, this would be the soundtrack. Frustrating, indifferent uncommunicative lovers are analyzed (along with an infectious pop hook) in "20 Questions" while "Where the Wild Horses Do" sensuously conveys a far cozier coupling on a beach. On "Possibly," Steven Moore's Spanish guitar and a breezy bossa nova beat all but beg for a top down cruise, cranked at full blast. Lyrically lurking beneath the sunniness, however, is the prickliness of a romance in full bloom. With the help of Moore, jazz trumpeter Joe Gransden, bassist Neal Starkey, percussionist Jennifer Lowe, violinist LaTanya Peoples and others, Maurice colorfully adds to the piano and voice palette he originally established on his 1999 debut recording, "Fallen Angel." "It was important for me to have creative input from musicians I respected," Maurice explains. "Still, it was a little embarrassing to articulate to Joe what I was looking for on 'Always Always Always.' Finally, he just looked at me and asked, 'Oh, you want me to sex it up?" and I said, "That's it!' " Like his revealing piano and voice cover of Cher's "Believe" on "Fallen Angel" (who knew there was an actual song beating beneath those studio vocal effects?), Maurice uses his trademark style to interpret a fresh take on U2's "With or Without You" for "20 Questions." After stripping away the dated 1980s production values and slowing down the tempo, Maurice discovered the wistfulness and longing buried beneath. "I like choosing covers that I can put my own style and twist to," says Maurice. " 'With or Without You' was originally based on guitars. I was fascinated by the idea of rebuilding it with a piano and replacing the electric bass with a bowed stand-up bass. It just puts the song into a different driver's seat." Maurice is cagier when attempting to explain the zany, manic musical merry-go-round that is "10:22 (P.M.)." "10:22 is a bit of a cartoon in itself. Let's just say it was inspired by a very intense love affair that was just as animated as the song and it affected me deeply," he hedges. "And yes, some aspects of the song are quite literal. But I'll leave the details up to the listener's imagination!" Like any engaging game of "20 Questions," Maurice's latest recording leaves listeners with far more tantalizing questions hanging in the air than actually answered. Just like love itself. -(best selling) author anonymous.
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