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After the demise of his previous band, Snug, British songwriter Ed Harcourt launched a short-lived career as a chef while continuing to write his own songs. A fan of Tom Waits and Jeff Buckley, he quickly abandoned the kitchen in favor of a solo songwriting career, one that found him 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 spent much of the 2000s on EMI's roster, releasing unique albums whose tracks veered between orchestrated pop, minimalist ballads, and Brit-pop/rock songs.
Maplewood, Harcourt'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 the 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, with soon-to-be wife Gita Harcourt playing 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.
Toward the end of the decade, Ed Harcourt aligned himself with New York City's Dovecote Records, which helped him 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, which arrived in the form of 2010's Lustre.
Three years later, Harcourt returned with the spare studio album, Back Into the Woods. Consisting of songs he wrote over a month-long hiatus, the album was recorded in six hours at Abbey Road Studios in London. The EP, Time of Dust, appeared in 2014. In 2016, Harcourt released his seventh studio album, the Flood-produced Furnaces.