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Songs You Forgot You Loved: Remembering Lionel Cartwright's Inspirational Chart-Topper 'Leap of Faith'

Russ Harrington

Lionel Cartwright, one of the more promising young country singers to emerge in the late '80s, reached peak chart performance and critical reception in 1991 with his lone No. 1 hit, "Leap of Faith."

Just months after its June 1991 release date, the song topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart on Sept. 21, unseating Brooks & Dunn's "Brand New Man." It also reached number three on Canada's RPM Country Tracks chart.

A Universal Message

The song lyrics share a simple message -- don't be afraid to make that first step toward the rest of your life, even if no one can promise you a no-risk guarantee. Its inspirational message shines brighter when paired with its John Lloyd Miller-produced music video, showing how a bashful bride, a little girl learning to ride a bike without training wheels and others conquered those initial butterflies and saw their goals through.

It's the sort of inspirational message, popping up from time to time through "I Hope You Dance" and other hits, that brings real meaning to the country charts. Cartwright was considered part of the famed "class of '89," and his lone number one offered something for listeners unenthused about Clint Black's hits or Travis Tritt's rocking stage show.

A Culmination of Prior Chart Performances

Although Cartwright had no other chart-topping hits, "Leap of Faith" wasn't an overnight success story. The 1991 single promoted his third and final album for MCA, Chasin' the Sun, capping a three-year mainstream run.

A longtime demo singer and television music arranger for The Nashville Network (TNN), Cartwright entered the big label fray in the eventful year of 1989 with his self-titled and mostly self-written debut album, produced by former Elvis Presley side man Tony Brown. With three top 40 singles, the album placed Cartwright among the young talents with potential to lead country music well into the 1990's.

One year later, sophomore album I Watched It on the Radio cracked the top 25 and included his first two top 10 singles, "I Watched It All (On My Radio)" and "My Heart is Set On You."

A Fitting Farewell From the Mainstream

Chasin' the Sun, the album featuring "Leap of Faith," ended up being the sunset (for now, at least) on Cartwright's run as a mainstream solo artist.

Perhaps just releasing one purely pop single in "Leap of Faith" hurt Cartwright's mainstream chances. Other new songs on the album reflected bluegrass and Cajun influences, brought to life by a backing band featuring steel guitar legends Buddy Emmons and Paul Franklin, drummers Eddie Bayers and Harry Stinson, bass guitar whiz Michael Rhodes, piano player Matt Rollings, Judds cohort Don Potter on acoustic guitar and a who's-who handling background vocals, including Ricky Skaggs and Alison Krauss. None of those names are all that odd to see in liner notes from the time, but it's worth considering the talent on board for that last push for a chart-topper.

Since that 1991 run atop the charts, Cartwright found other ways to stay active in music. Primarily, he stays busy at his old job, composing theme music for 30 Minute Meals and other television shows.

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Songs You Forgot You Loved: Remembering Lionel Cartwright's Inspirational Chart-Topper 'Leap of Faith'