After the demise of his previous band, Snug, British songwriter Ed Harcourt launched a short-lived career as a chef while continuing to write new material. A fan of Tom Waits and Jeff Buckley, he quickly abandoned the kitchen in favor of a solo songwriting career, progressing from bass guitar -- his chief instrument with Snug -- to a number of other instruments, including the piano, guitar, banjo, and drums. Harcourt proved to be a prolific, genre-hopping musician, and his marriage of dreamland Americana and England's South Coast quickly attracted a devout fan base. He spent the better part of the 2000s on EMI's roster, releasing unique albums whose tracks veered between orchestrated pop, minimalist ballads, and Brit-pop rock songs.
Maplewood, the singer/songwriter's solo debut, sounded like a work in progress upon its release in 2001. Indeed, Heavenly Records issued the four-track recording in its original state, despite Harcourt's original plan to use those atmospheric songs (which were recorded in the rural setting of his grandmother's Sussex house) as demo material. Conversely, 2002's Here Be Monsters was recorded in a proper studio, featuring thickened and enriched versions of some of Harcourt's earlier work. The following year saw the release of From Every Sphere, a stripped-down sophomore effort, and Harcourt toured with Wilco and R.E.M. before releasing his third studio album, Strangers, in 2004.
Beautiful Lie arrived two years later, featuring the singer's strongest writing to date. The album had been recorded in the midst of Harcourt's wedding preparations, and soon-to-be wife Gita Harcourt played violin on several tracks. A greatest-hits compilation, Until Tomorrow Then: The Best of Ed Harcourt, followed in 2007, featuring key tracks from the songwriter's EMI albums as well as a new song entitled "You Put a Spell on Me." The album proved to be Harcourt's last for EMI. He subsequently aligned himself with New York City's Dovecote Records, which helped Harcourt expand his American audience by reissuing The Beautiful Lie in 2008. One year later, the digital release of Russian Roulette whetted anticipation for Harcourt's proper follow-up to The Beautiful Lie. ~ Mark Joseph, All Music Guide
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