These Ghosts Have Bones

Miles Zuniga

Independent release, 2011

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


“I used to worry about my baby
Now my baby’s gone
I used to have a lot of problems
Now I’ve got only one”

—“Junkie Hands” by Miles Zuniga

Of all the possible conclusions one might draw from Fastball guitarist/vocalist Miles Zuniga’s lone solo album to date, this one seems the safest: the former Mr. and Mrs. Zuniga are unlikely to get back together in this lifetime. In a production that Zuniga bills right up front as “a record/therapy session,” he delivers not one but 11 tunes’ worth of emotional catharsis in the wake of what sounds like an epically bitter divorce. (When the kindest commentary you can manage in 34 minutes of music is “love’s a mystery,” you know it got rough.)

It’s easy to appreciate why these songs ended up on a solo album rather than a Fastball release; they’re just too relentlessly personal and autobiographical for the band context. That said, These Ghosts Have Bones also features a lot of familiar Zuniga/Fastball characteristics, e.g. superbly crafted, moody power-pop tunes with elements frequently drawn from his favorite toolbox of late-’60s Beatles and Dylan records.

Opener “Marfa Moonlight” offers perhaps the lightest touch here, a rather sing-songy piano-based tune whose lyric is more atmospheric than specific, a gentle interrogation led by the refrain “Oh / What about us? / What about you? / What am I supposed to do?” “Rock Paper Scissors” veers closer to typical Fastball fare musically, a punchy riff-rocker with an acid lyric about drinking away a heartache that’s been compounded by all-too-glib friends: “Everybody says it’s a new day, son / Trading in your wife for a new one.”

“Feel It In Your Kiss” is a deliciously sad Motown-flavored confection that flashes back to the moment Zuniga realized the marriage was in trouble. “Once we were together / Once we couldn’t miss / Now everything is different / I feel it in your kiss” he sings in a lilting falsetto over soul-funk guitar, adding that “You should leave me if you want to be free / But baby please don’t tell lies to me.” Ouch.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“The Weathermen” sketches the paranoia and second-guessing that goes with doubting the central relationship of your life, with a woozy, playfully melancholy barroom blues arrangement that wouldn’t be out of place on Abbey Road. The hammer comes down hard with “Wicked” as Zuniga puts his finger in the wound and lets his pain run loose, doing his best to scare off the next guy: “I know you’re dazzled by her big green eyes / I know you think she could not hurt a fly / You’re just not thinking clearly now / She’s wicked, wicked and cruel / Oh, she’ll make a fool of you.” (As for the arrangement, it’s pure White Album, right down to the stabbing “Ah-ah-ah-ah” background vocals.)

“Right now I don’t care to ever see your face again… The dream that we shared, it belongs to yesterday” Zuniga sings on the gently propulsive “Elizabeth” before distancing himself even further from his past on the similarly melancholy “Now She’s Just A Shadow,” finally concluding that “It’s time to move on / ’Cause now she’s just a shadow.”

The last four tracks find Zuniga hop-scotching through time revisiting individual moments in the marriage. “One Day To Closer To You” is a rather British Invasion-flavored road song about being apart and worrying about what that’s doing to the relationship (“When I get home will we still fit?”), segueing nicely into “Working On A Love Song,” an MC Escher sketch of a tune about working on a love song for his wife while on the road—the very same song that he’s singing. It’s a clever, slightly twangy acoustic-and-mandolin confection right up to the punchline, which I won’t spoil for you, but suffice it to say things don’t end well for our narrator.

“Junkie Hands” (see quote above) recasts love as addiction inside an arrangement that’s pure late Beatles, psychedelic flourishes punctuated by a bridge/solo of arcing, weepy licks right out of the Harrison playbook. Closer “You Can’t Break My Heart” is the quietest and bitterest number of all, an acoustic lament in which Zuniga declares that “You can tear my world apart / But you can’t break my heart” in a voice that’s nothing if not heartbroken.

These Ghosts Have Bones isn’t exactly an uplifting listen, but through all its downbeat moments, what shines through is the remarkable craftsmanship Zuniga brings to the messy work of exorcising his pain through song. Every one of these tunes is thoughtfully assembled and cleverly arranged, rich with riffs and lines and little flourishes that remind you that, whatever his mood might have been in the moment, you’re in the hands of a consummate songwriter, arranger and performer. Downer or no, this one is well worth checking out.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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