LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - Before signing his major-label contract, Noel Gourdin caught the attention of no less a music authority than Dr. Dre. After meeting through a mutual acquaintance, the super producer invited the R&B newcomer into his studio to record several tracks.
"Walking down that hallway to where Dr. Dre was sitting at the board was the longest 40 feet in my life," Gourdin recalls with a laugh. "But when we were done, he said the door is always open. That was major validation."
As is the momentum behind his first single, "The River." The ballad, inspired by Gourdin's deceased grandfather and family summers spent in Mississippi, has climbed to No. 3 on Billboard's Adult R&B chart and No. 29 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.
"The River" was also featured in the film "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins," starring Martin Lawrence and Mo'Nique. The song, along with 12 other selections, constitutes Gourdin's new album, "After My Time," due July 22 from Epic Records.
"Kay-Gee is a hip-hop man and I'm a soul man," Gourdin says of "River" producer Kay-Gee, former DJ for Naughty by Nature DJ. "We put the two together and created a base for the album."
R&B/soul and hip-hop also give way to funk and alternative rock on such tracks as "Sorry I Led You On" and "P.Y.T."
Gourdin, who co-wrote much of the album with production team Trakaddix, collaborated with several guest producers including Raphael Saadiq, Salaam Remi and Soundz.
Growing up just outside Boston in Brockton, Mass., Gourdin was influenced musically by Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and Teddy Pendergrass. Working at a group home after completing high school, the 26-year-old got busy during off hours seasoning his vocals in local clubs, talent shows and summer festivals.
Kay-Gee, who initially tapped Gourdin to record "Family Reunion" for the 2004 soundtrack to "The Cookout," calls the singer-songwriter the "new-age Sam Cooke." While flattered, Gourdin is just trying to soak in all that's happened since signing with Epic in 2005.
"After quitting my job, I would ask myself every day if I was doing the right thing with my life," he says. "But I wouldn't trade this now for anything."