When Peter Jackson began to make the Lord of the Rings films, and word was leaking onto the internet as to various bits of news about the films, fanboys were up in arms over the expanded role of Arwen played by Liv Tyler. They found it to be a ‘Hollywood’ scheme to try and build an unnecessary and non-textual love story so that the film would not just appeal to men who are in their 20s and 30s, still live at home, rarely bathe, and would rather go by the name of Gogolak, the very very Dark Blue rather than Eric. But the funny thing is, Jackson didn’t just pull Arwen out of his derriere. The full story of Arwen and Aragorn’s romance is told in the appendix, Jackson simply put it back into the fold of the main story so that it didn’t become some kind of sweaty Norse homoerotic fantasy. The appendix also contained something I felt should have been in the film, had it not 18 endings already, and that is the final death of Aragorn years later, with Legolas and Gimli sailing off with his body to the Grey Havens. What does this have to do with a rock review? My point is that sometimes appendices are good things.
Seven months ago, Will Sheff and his band, Okkervil River, presented us with one of the best albums of the year with the gothic novel set to folk rock music, Black Sheep Boy. (And yes, it did make Treble’s end of the year list, keep your eyes on this site!) Sheff’s album revolving around the title character of a Tim Hardin song was thoroughly enjoyable and at times touching on brilliance. Often times an album like that can leave listeners begging for more, and in the case of Okkervil River, those listeners get more. Finishing demos from the Black Sheep Boy sessions and adding a few new tracks as well, Sheff and his merry band of musicians have created Black Sheep Boy Appendix.
The appendix starts with a Grimm’s fairy tale of sorts in “Missing Children” with `bigger, blacker things’ following kids into a forest. “No Key, No Plan” brings us back to the faster, more energetic songs on the original document, such as “For Real” or “Black.” The song is a redemptive one as the rich young sophisticate hears the Greek chorus singing “You’ve never earned your soul” to which he replies, “I know, but I’m gonna try.” The short “A Garden” is a reprise of the opening of “Missing Children,” which then leads into “Black Sheep Boy #4,” another part of the story which began with the title track, and then continued with “In a Radio Song” and then “So Come Back, I am Waiting.” “Another Radio Song” builds up like an out of control locomotive, full of fire and inertia. But just as in the last album, Sheff saves the best for last, rewarding listeners with patience, as he gets to “Last Love Song for Now,” which reprises lines from the introductory track and encompasses all of the styles Sheff employs throughout both albums. Handclaps, horns, guitars and organs fill the space that makes one jealous at the thought of how talented a writer and musician Will Sheff really is.
After hearing both the original album and now the appendix, I am really hoping that Sheff turns the adventures of the Black Sheep Boy into a gothic novel. The haunting imagery that is enmeshed throughout stays with you, even though you might not be able to comprehend all of it. One thing is for sure, the novel would have to be illustrated by William Schaff, the man who did the covers for both CDs. I’ve listened to each disc several times, and can enjoy them on several different levels, as folk rock majesty, as a look into the personal demons of one artist, as a collection of short stories. There are not many bands who can lay claim to having such a dense record, and even fewer still who can claim to have supplemented that genius.