Bocephus King's A Small Good Thing is an album that doesn't ever really make up its mind and it doesn't need to. Surprisingly, his raspy rockers fit remarkably well between his pensive painful ballads, pop-induced driving songs, and fiddle-heavy folk tunes. King's often Tom Waits-esque throaty delivery and the band's multi-instrumentalism add depth to the overwhelming lighthearted feel of A Small Good Thing. This lighthearted feel rises not so much from the lyrics as it does from the mandolin, piano, and pedal steel woven into songs that deal with death, regret, and torturous mental pain. The album's title track is a tribute to the bygone days of being a teenager. "Them teenage boys are so happy to live they start screaming, outside my window like hounds in the orange summer moon/And at times I forget all my sins and remember that feeling/I forget the sad day when the bride did away with the groom." "Blues for Buddy Bolden" hits the ground running with mandolin and fiddle, giving the tune a south-of-the-border feel, and is one of the more solid songs on the album if listeners can get past King's imperfect howls (and those who can will understand that any imperfections in King's vocals are a major part of his attraction). The song is a tribute to ill-fated New Orleans cornet player Buddy Bolden, who reached prime fame at the beginning of the 1900s. No recordings of his exist, just legends -- Bolden was a schizophrenic, which rendered him unable to perform around age 30.
"Hours Before Light" is a phenomenal, epic ballad of a man's internal dialogue during his last few hours on death row. It's highly ethereal, solemn, and intimate. "Don't take my soul/Not from me now/Don't send no roses/My penance is due/The mandolin cries/Winter's dark song/The angels are coming/And it won't be long." Fast-paced acoustic slide guitar introduces the murder ballad "Ruby," which gets its eerie, regretful feel from the relentless minor notes of a violin. The song is musically intriguing, and King's unique rhythmic vocals croon above the Latin percussion, "Is alive a thing that matters or is it just another thing you gotta be?" "What Am I Doing Here?," like others on the album, is a song about searching. It's often spiritual, often heartbroken yet proud. It's full of stories of people who desire a return to their youth, or at least a time when they did or will have more energy to survive. Yet the album is not completely depressing -- King intertwines humor and sarcasm into nearly every track, like the catchy country track "I'll Die in Mine" and especially in "Nowhere at All," in which he reflects on how he's had his heart broken more times than he's done his own laundry -- and that perhaps the two are related. A Small Good Thing is to Bocephus King what Desire was to Bob Dylan. Not everyone is going to like it, but it's charming, it's eclectic, and the songwriting is stunning. The album is full of stunning lyricism and arresting musicality, and it channels so many emotions that those with a taste for passionate, unique music will find it hard not to fall in love with A Small Good Thing.