Released by Jagjaguwar in early 2005, Black Sheep Boy is now regarded as Okkervil River’s breakthrough album. NY Times raved, “[Sheff] writes like a novelist. His songs are full of elegant phrases and unexpected images.” Pitchfork named it one of the “Greatest Albums Of The Decade” and The Guardian declared it “a work of riveting ambition.” Packed tours and festival dates followed, and the album’s first single “For Real” found its way into the ears of Sheff’s idol Lou Reed, who named Okkervil River one of his favorite contemporary bands, asked them to open for him and told Sheff, “You have a classic rock and roll voice.”
On a break from touring, Sheff and a now completely reformulated Okkervil River recorded Black Sheep Boy Appendix, an EP that combined re-tooled outtakes from the original sessions with new material to create a seamless whole piece, a new take on the Black Sheep Boy saga.
In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of this iconic album, Jagjaguwar is proud to present the Black Sheep Boy Anniversary Edition, a three-LP set combining the classic Black Sheep Boy album and its counterpart the Black Sheep Boy Appendix with an all new unreleased album entitled There Swims a Swan: full-band recordings made six months prior to the release of Black Sheep Boy which illuminate the album’s roots in the traditional American songbook. Featuring beautiful, emotional readings of songs popularized by such artists as Washington Phillips, Lead Belly, the Louvin Brothers, and Roscoe Holcomb, There Swims a Swan takes the listener on a trip through the songs that inspired Sheff while composing Black Sheep Boy and reads like a run-through of that album’s themes. Black Sheep Boy is celebrated for its album artwork as well as its music, and the Anniversary Edition collects that artwork in a meticulously reworked package, combining every previous element of William Schaff’s imagery with a large new piece by Schaff depicting an updated Black Sheep Boy. The release also includes lengthy liner notes by Will Sheff walking the listener through the circumstances surrounding the album.
For Okkervil River fans (the most high-profile of whom was recently revealed to be President Barack Obama, who included “Down Down the Deep River” on his 2015 summer playlist), the Anniversary Edition is a loving, comprehensive, richly expanded presentation of a record many consider to be one of the band’s best. For those new to the band, this might be the best place to start, the first step on a long road, the opening to a forest you can get lost in.