May 07, 2008
June 13, 2008
New York, NY
Jazz, Neo Soul, Soul
Total Songs Added:
A gritty, working class city outside of Boston, Brockton is best known as where legendary fighters the late Rocky Marciano and Marvin Hagler grew up. Unlike Detroit, Memphis, New Orleans or Philly, Brockton doesn't spring to mind when name checking soul music's breeding grounds. Yet it's there that 24 year-old Noel Gourdin first fell under R&B's spell and his hometown's tenacity is the force behind his stunning Sony Urban Music/Epic Records debut.
Blessed with roughhewn, down-home vocals that hark back to when rhythm and blues repped for both those components, influences ranging from hip-hop to gospel and songs that are nakedly emotional and truthful, Noel Gourdin states his case on his refreshingly heartfelt debut CD. Featuring production from Kay Gee (Jaheim/Zhan ), Raphael Saadiq (D'Angelo/Angie Stone), Mike City (Brandy/Sunshine Anderson), Dre & Vidal (Jill Scott), Butta (Usher), Eddie F (Heavy D), RLES and Trackaddix, Noel's debut release is soul at its best. Speaking to the vibe he offers, Noel divulges, "It's about the emotions of the average man. My intention is putting my feelings on the track and leaving everything I've got in the recording booth. I want people to think; this is a man that you can feel. That you can slow dance with, have a drink with and cry with. It's real music that affects your life."
That's apparent on the richly moving "The River." Produced by Kay Gee, "The River" conjures up vivid images of family, faith, tradition and the journey towards becoming your own man. "I had a track, and Noel and his co-writer [Balewa] said they wanted something that sounded like an old-styled ballad," recalls Kay Gee of their seamless creative process. "I said, `Well, I have the perfect beat for you.' So, I gave them the beat and they were like, `Alright bet.' Before I knew it, they had written `The River,' which is a great record. A lot of people are scared to do one of those kinds of songs right now, so I think they took a chance and came up with something great." "We wanted to make a modern-day Negro spiritual," concludes Noel, of the song's inspiration. "Both my grandparents lived in Mississippi about 3 hours from Biloxi and I spent every summer with them, so I really soaked up that atmosphere and history. My grandfather had just died and I was really thinking about him, and in the Deep South the river represents something spiritual. The song means a lot because it's so close to home."
Emotions also guide the jazzy "Hurts Like Hell", produced by Trackaddix. "That's a real pride record. He still loves her but it's not working out. A lot of fellows wont admit it, but after they've broken up they say, `She's not gonna see me crying.' That's real." So too is the sultry "Summertime," produced by Dre & Vidal. Featuring lines like "Just cause it's cold outside/let's make it summertime," this is a soft and wet ode that Noel calls "just crazy. In some ways the vibe reminds me of `Let's Get It On.'" There's also a hint of a more contemporary singer - namely, D'Angelo -- and Noel acknowledges the influence. "I hear the comparison; our voices are similar but you can tell us apart. I get inspiration from a lot of artists: Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke. There's also a real big Prince undertone. I just filter it all through my own way of seeing things and hopefully come up with something hot." Hot also describes the up-tempo "Clap 4 That," produced by Butta. "That's a `have fun party record' that I loved doing it."
The youngest of three kids, Noel grew up singing in church and fully absorbed his father's classic soul and older brother's New Jack Swing records. From Otis Redding and the Chi-Lites to Teddy Riley and Jodeci, Noel loved it all, so much so that in middle school he had begun to write his own songs, drawing from what he'd heard coming up. "Listening to so much music from so many different eras really helped me put my style together."
By high school, Noel was performing in local talent shows, parties and events sponsored by the city. "We'd always keep it true, trying to put it down for the home town," he fondly recalls. "It was a pleasure performing in Brockton. I did shows for the Boys and Girls Club to help keep the kids motivated." It was also while in school that Noel hooked up with a local producer, who sensing his talent took Noel to a small studio. While the recording facilities might have been modest, the pay off was enormous as Noel recalls: "I had somewhere to get the music off my chest and after a year I had a bunch of tracks together, doing all the music and writing all the lyrics."
Following graduation, Noel focused even more on music and further strengthened his commitment to his community by working at a local group home for battered kids. "It was a passion of mine, being able to affect a kid's life and trying to be a positive role model." By 2002, Noel and Stalin Entertainment owner Larry "Lucky" Fernandes had built their business relationship and sealed their artist management deal with a handshake. After a year of writing and producing new songs -- following a club date in Providence, RI -- Lucky introduced the Noel project to producer/artist Tommy Olivera, who, with songwriter Balewa Muhammad, now make up Noel's production team. Tommy also had a wide range of industry contacts, among them former Naughty By Nature DJ / producer Kay Gee, who is best known for his production work for Jaheim, Zhan and Next. Within no time, Noel was working with Kay Gee at his New Jersey studio. In 2004, Kay Gee asked him to contribute a song to The Cook Out soundtrack; Noel cut "Family Reunion," which by his own admission signaled a new musical direction. "Working with everyone had really opened up my horizons and I started looking at concepts and listening to music in a different way. I wanted to come up with something that wasn't out there." With that in mind, Noel kept writing and amassed close to an album's worth of material, which he and his team sent out to taste-makers in the music industry. He also met with label executives, which resulted in an introduction to Sony Urban Music's V.P. of A&R, Chad Elliott in June 2005. Armed with a slew of tracks, including early versions of "Hurts Like Hell" and "The River," Noel caught Elliot's ear and by the end of the summer a showcase was set up for the young singer/songwriter. By the fall of that year, Noel was offered a record deal. "Getting signed was unbelievable. I'm very family oriented, so to be able to make them proud meant everything to me. Plus, I think my deal showed other Brockton musicians that it's not just a pipe dream."
That dedication comes through on Noel's emotionally-stirring debut CD, something his seasoned producers recognized early on and played up. "I know a lot of people say this, but I think he's just a breath of fresh air [right now]," explains Kay Gee. "I think the fact that we haven't heard singers like him in a while, mixed with the sound of his falsetto, lets us know that there's something missing in the music industry right now. I think there's a lane open for his sound." Raphael Saadiq wholeheartedly agrees, adding, "Noel's a young soul who can sing in all kinds of different areas. He's from Mississippi but lives out in Boston, so he's bringing a certain flavor from both places. His style is really soulful. He's very competitive and cool, but also has that energy that you need out there in the urban world." Asked to describe his soulful collection and Noel straightforwardly replies, "It's emotional and vulnerable, but still strong and secure. More than anything, I wanted to make music that was real, relatable and timeless."