[NAKED SONGS] The first time I heard Rob Wynia's solo recordings, he was experimenting with soundscapes and edgy spoken-word pieces. I was shocked at how far off course the material was from the organic rawk of his divisive Portland band Floater.
The acoustic guitar-led songs on Iron By Water—recorded mostly in Wynia's temporary rural Idaho home—aren't quite as drastic a departure, but they would certainly come as a shock to those who have Floater and its cult following figured out. The string-fueled verses of "Only You" sound like Nick Drake via Procol Harum, and the twangy "Soapbox" is a lushly lyrical, Pink Floyd-esque meditation on the self-awareness that comes with growing up ("If you know you're headed for slaughter/ If you know where you've been/ You will be changed/ Like iron by water/ This is the end/ Just the end/ The end of an age").
Wynia's capable, fluttering voice is a strong enough tool with which to build a record, but the singer-songwriter's flair for the theatrical is always going to make it or break it for potential fans. The disc's pretty opener, "Firefly," engages in any number of un-trendy activities: It tests Wynia's upper register, features quietly patted congas and relies on medieval imagery for its inward-looking lyrics. All of this is liable to scare listeners from the Pavement generation. But then, that's Rob Wynia: He's a lover of classic rock, a history buff and a songwriter who's truly dedicated to self-examination. It can come off as a tad hippie-dippy at times, but songs as soul-baring as "Testify" and as vulnerable as "Cast Aside"—perhaps the strongest cut on the disc—feel entirely honest and genuine (if also a little perma-stoned). I don't know how many spins I'll wind up giving Iron By Water, but I feel pretty good about keeping it in my collection.
SEE IT. Rob Wynia plays Mississippi Studios on Sunday, Aug. 21, with Oh Darling. 9 pm. $7 advance, $10 day of show. 21+