Those who have been keeping tabs on Ed Harcourt should know by now that he’s a ridiculously prolific songwriter. The man had a back catalog of about 300 songs when he released his debut Here Be Monsters, though most of them, he admitted, were “quite shit.” Still, that a songwriter that talented and productive can also be so self-critical means that his albums only gave us the tip of the iceberg when it came to his actual recorded output. Several singles released off of each of his three studio albums yielded a wealth of b-sides, all of which are collected on Elephant’s Graveyard, a digital-only release by the UK troubadour. Along with b-sides, however, are a handful of covers, some unreleased tracks and some compilation fodder. All of that said, most of these tracks are every bit as wonderful as Harcourt’s album material.
Beginning with the unreleased maelstrom “The Unlucky One,” Harcourt takes us through 28 songs, which range from early Here Be Monsters outtakes to recent b-sides. Songs on the collection range from the Tom Waits-like “T-Bone Tombstone” to the dreamy folk of “Here Be Monsters” to the growling rock stomp of “Alligator Boy.” Those who started with Maplewood, Ed’s debut EP, will be familiar with the creepy blues of “I’ve Become Misguided,” though the version on this collection is much different, trading in the fuzzy, solo rendition for a full-band, noisy drunken row, which, despite the original’s eerie charms, is quite fun and explosive.
There are lighter moments, such as the silly “When Americans Come to London” and the lullaby “Sleepyhead,” as well as more idiosyncratic ones, such as the self-described “gypsy waltz” of “Weary and Bleary-Eyed” and the rocking double-time romp of “Little Silver Bullet.” Then, of course, comes the spooky Sleepy Hollow oddity “Blackwoods Back Home.” There is also a pair of covers on this two-disc (if you were to burn it) set, the first a beautiful rendition of Brian Wilson’s “Still I Dream of It” and the second a piano-heavy version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City.” Supposedly, a Norwegian Bruce Springsteen appreciation society plays Ed’s version at the beginning of each of their meetings!
It’s hard to know when to stop when talking about all of the gems included on Elephant’s Graveyard. Just a few more might do, such as the lovely ballad “Angels on Your Body,” the gloomy “Hammer and the Nail,” the darkly rocking “Asleep At the Helm” and the distorted, noisy “Sugarbomb.” Though there’s a lot of material on Graveyard, it’s all pretty magnificent. And the fact that it’s so all over the place makes its sequencing sound more like a mixtape than a proper album, which is sort of the point, considering the `odds-n-sods’ nature of it all. But it just goes to show that no matter how much Harcourt decides to release, there is always bound to be more great material that we aren’t hearing.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.