Wainwright planned to create a more simple piano and voice album originally, but began leaning towards more lush sounds once the recording process started. Guests on Release the Stars include: Richard Thompson, longtime friend and fellow singer-songwriter Teddy Thompson, family members Martha Wainwright and Kate McGarrigle, Neil Tennant, Joan Wasser, and actress Siân Phillips. The world tour supporting the album lasted from May 2007 to February 2008, and included appearances in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Wainwright received two Juno Award nominations for Release the Stars, including Adult Alternative Album of the Year and Songwriter of the Year, and won the Outstanding Music Artist award at the 19th GLAAD Media Awards.
"Initially, this was simply going to be an album of piano and voice", Wainwright stated in a May 2007 interview with The Independent's Nick Duerden. That was, however, until he visited Berlin, which influenced the album's lush sound. Wainwright declared, "Basically, a huge wave of German Romanticism descended on the recording process, and almost drowned me." Wainwright cited two reasons for the change in direction and the heightened dramatic flare: the cancer diagnosis received by his mother (folk musician Kate McGarrigle) during the album's genesis, which he found "fueled his creative intensity in some kind of displaced attempt to get her well", and the New York Metropolitan Opera's commissioning Wainwright to write an opera, making Release the Stars a way of training for such a large project. Revealing the overall theme in January 2007, Wainwright declared the album was about opening up and following impulses. "Whether it's the environment, politics or religious warfare", Wainwright stated in an interview with The Japan Times, "it's time to get out there and be a part of the solution, whatever that is."
For his "incredible take on what popular music means in today's world", Wainwright recruited Neil Tennant to advise him, act as executive producer of the album, and assist with the editing process. Parts of the album were recorded at Second Story and Legacy in New York City, Brooklyn Recording in Brooklyn, Saal 4 in Berlin, and Strongroom and Angel Recording Studios in London. Wainwright had his sister Martha Wainwright, half-sister Lucy Wainwright Roche, and mother Kate McGarrigle appear on the album, along with father and son musicians Richard Thompson and Teddy Thompson. Marius de Vries, who produced both of Wainwright's previous albums (Want One and Want Two), worked on the album, as did longtime band members Jeff Hill, Jack Petruzelli, and Matt Johnson.
"Going to a Town" was released in the United States as a single in digital format on April 3, 2007. The track was later released via digital distribution in the UK on May 7, including "Low Grade Happiness" as a B-side on iTunes. "Going to a Town" entered the UK Singles Chart on May 19, 2007, at number 68. The following week (May 26), the track reached its highest position at number 54. "Going to a Town" lasted on the chart for two weeks in total, and failed to chart in other countries. The music video for the song was directed by Sophie Muller. The video premiered in April 2007, and Logo aired a 20-minute feature on the making of the video on April 27, 2007 (Making the Video: Going to a Town).
The album's second single, "Rules and Regulations", was released digitally in the UK on July 30, 2007. The song failed to chart. Petro Papahadjopoulos directed the music video for "Rules and Regulations", which features a group of men performing a choreographed dance around a long john-wearing Wainwright inside a London mansion.