Since he made his mid-2000s debut, Noel Gourdin has been one of many artists you could cite in response to the complaint that post-millennial R&B artists lack soul. The singer and songwriter is known most for the nostalgic and enduring 2008 hit ballad "The River," a Billboard Adult R&B chart topper. Born and raised in Brockton, Massachusetts, the singer and songwriter was brought up in the church and heard vintage and contemporary R&B sounds in his household, which enabled him to develop an appreciation for Otis Redding, Johnnie Taylor, Guy, and Jodeci. Summers spent in Pachuta, Mississippi with his grandparents deepened his connection to Southern soul and traditional gospel. As a youngster, he started writing, as well as performing, in shows for the local Boys & Girls Clubs. By the time Gourdin graduated high school, he also had some studio recording experience under his belt, and eventually had a manager in family friend Larry "Lucky" Fernandes.
In a sequence of events set off by Fernandes, Gourdin was put in touch with Balewa Muhammad, Tommy Oliveira, and Naughty by Nature's Keir "Kay Gee" Gist, all three of whom had worked together with Jaheim. With Gist as producer, Gourdin debuted on the soundtrack for the 2004 film The Cookout with "Family Reunion." A deal with Sony-distributed Columbia was signed the following year, but progress was stalled by staffing shake-ups and a move to the Epic roster. Gourdin was finally let out of the gate in 2008 with "The River," a Millie Jackson-sampling number he co-wrote with the likes of Muhammad, Gist, and Marcellus Dawson. It debuted that March on Billboard's Adult R&B chart and after a few months of incremental gains spent two weeks on top. During the song's long chart stay of 40 weeks, Gourdin also issued his first full-length, After My Time, which added the likes of Raphael Saadiq, Salaam Remi, and Dre & Vidal to his list of collaborators. The album peaked at number 36 on the Billboard 200.
Despite the triumphs, Gourdin's time within the Sony system was marked by deep frustration. The singer's subsequent independent material nonetheless continued to appeal to the urban adult contemporary radio format with feel-good material that incorporated elements of vintage hip-hop, disco-funk, and classic soul balladry. Fresh: The Definition, arrived in 2011 on Mass Appeal. Produced by label CEO Marcus Siskind, the album was highlighted by "Beautiful," a chivalrous midtempo single that reached number 13 on the Adult R&B chart. After he appeared on Brian Culbertson's Dreams, Gourdin settled into another label home, Shanachie, for his third album, City Heart, Southern Soul. Most of the 2014 set was co-written with early partner Marcellus Dawson. The reunion resulted in another charting single, "Heaven Knows," while "Patience" was pressed on 7" via Soulside Productions. Featured appearances on songs by Latrese Bush and K. Avett followed through 2018. ~ Andy Kellman