While many artists are well equipped with surefire talents and skills in elevating themselves towards major musical exposure, sometimes their confidence can be fragile and opportunities fleeting when facing the unpredictability of the music industry ebbs and flows. When Noel Gourdin was first introduced to the national stage, already backed by a major record deal and an endorsement from an urban icon, the buzz was brewing for this silky soul stylist. It was the spiritually charged tale of the singer/songwriter’s upbringing, “The River,” promoted highly by Steve Harvey on his radio show, that became what is Gourdin’s calling card to this day.
But what made Gourdin shine was his heartfelt tenor and spirited lyrics that were highly respectful toward women, as on such emotional ballads as “Sorry.” Though his start with Sony Records with After My Time was extremely promising, especially with “The River” hitting #1 on the Billboard Hot R&B chart, Gourdin was still an unproven talent who needed to make his presence known in a highly competitive soul market. The success of a single that legions could hum, but whose artist few could name, was not enough for a sustained win. However, Gourdin was not again afforded an opportunity to fully prove himself as a major label talent, with Sony releasing him from his contract right after his debut’s second single failed to break into the R&B Top 40.
Strongly echoing the familiar saying that breaking up is hard to do, Gourdin reportedly battled depression for several months after the divorce from his first musical family. After bouncing back, turning to an independent label was Gourdin’s next move. He returned with his back-to-basics soul vengeance on the appropriately titled, Fresh: The Definition in 2011, anchored by the next single, “Beautiful,” which bested his previous effort by peaking at #13 on the R&B charts. His sophomore effort was a significant commercial letdown, but that did not compromise Gourdin’s steadfast musical integrity or stop his grind. Two years later, Gourdin offered a ‘holiday gift’ EP for his fans, One Gift, through his Top Notch mogul, a teaser for the upcoming City Heart, Southern Soul on his current label home, Shanachie.
City Heart, Southern Soul finds Gourdin delivering an attractively soulful variety package, his trademark spin on positive praise and uplifting women for love’s sake. The first singles, “Heaven Knows” and “Foxxy,” are two Southern soul fried pieces, bathed in Gourdin’s sassy yet laid back tenor. The former illustrates a relationship that is tested by unfaithful partners where Gourdin promises to make amends with his Maker, while the latter declares a crush on his dream girl, filled with brass hits and lush strings.
Steppers should delight in “Spotlight Lovin’,” oozing the sheer excitement of a blossoming romance. Sadly, one of the few miscues on City Heart, Southern Soul, is another steppers’ piece, “Photography,” that drowns in a pale vocal arrangement and production. While the orchestration also lags on “Patience,” overall it is a pleasing nod to classic smooth soul crooners Sam Cooke and Ben E. King, reflecting the ideology of slowly but surely pacing love’s courtship phase. “I Want You (Regardless)” breezes through an old-school sea of strings, brass and percussion, and a philosophical Gourdin addressing the haters: “We have all done some foolish things on a chosen path/But we can’t take them back/And no time machine will change our past.”
Shifting from the cool side of soul, Gourdin locks into that hip-hop funky gusto with “Don’t You Wanna’,” giving props to Big Pun and Joe’s, “Don’t Want to Be a Player No More.” Acid jazz greats Incognito and Brand New Heavies are represented with “No Worries,” a disco workout showing Gourdin’s sturdiness in also handling dance club jams. “Can’t Wait” thrives on his unpretentious chemistry with the powerful songstress, Avery*Sunshine, capped by a supercharged gospel vibe during the second half.
With City Heart, Southern Soul, Gourdin has finally solidified his artistic status after weathering through the industry storms. Maybe the third time will do the trick for this genuine soul man who radiates a charm that is mighty irresistible. Recommended.
By Peggy Oliver