Ray Parker Jr. - I'm Free (2006)

Ray Parker Jr.
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After fifteen years away, Ray Parker has changed quite a bit...and not at all.  His new independent release, I'm Free, is a conscious departure musically from much of his 80s work, with Parker playing electric, acoustic, nylon and bass guitars and mildly delving into Latin, reggae, adult soul, rock, blues and smooth jazz styles.  But despite the surface distinctions, I'm Free is actually in its heart a fairly representative Parker album, with melodic, catchy tunes and an overall pop sheen that keeps the album from veering too far from radio-friendliness.  Ray Parker is now in his 50s, and there is an aura of middle-age sadness to the disc, with references to divorce, lost opportunities and ennui, though all incompletely expressed through his typically lightweight lyrics about drinking ("Glass of Wine," "Rum Punch") and sex (pretty much everything else). 

After fifteen years away, Ray Parker has changed quite a bit...and not at all.  His new independent release, I'm Free, is a conscious departure musically from much of his 80s work, with Parker playing electric, acoustic, nylon and bass guitars and mildly delving into Latin, reggae, adult soul, rock, blues and smooth jazz styles.  But despite the surface distinctions, I'm Free is actually in its heart a fairly representative Parker album, with melodic, catchy tunes and an overall pop sheen that keeps the album from veering too far from radio-friendliness.  Ray Parker is now in his 50s, and there is an aura of middle-age sadness to the disc, with references to divorce, lost opportunities and ennui, though all incompletely expressed through his typically lightweight lyrics about drinking ("Glass of Wine," "Rum Punch") and sex (pretty much everything else). 

I'm Free leads of nicely with "Mexico," an infectious adult soul cut about a husband and wife getaway, but never reaches that level again, though the bluesy title cut and the instrumental "Mismalaya Beach" are worthwhile.  Otherwise, the disc is the kind of ear candy that Ray Parker has recorded his whole career; absolutely listenable, but not entirely memorable.

by Chris Rizik

 
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