Based on a True Story/Sandtown

(Gotee Records)

Baltimore, Maryland ("Charm City") is the setting for marvelous films such as Diner and Hairspray, the location of acclaimed television dramas "The Wire" and "Homicide" and possessor of a formidable pedigree in many genres of music.

In the footsteps of legendary performers such as Cab Calloway and Billie Holiday comes Sandtown. This inner city children's choir takes its name-and its attitude-from Sandtown-Winchester, a Baltimore neighborhood which flourished in the 1950's and '60s, but fell on hard times following late '60s racial riots. Out of the neighborhood's 1980s renewal was born New Song Urban Ministries; Sandtown is but one of the ministries launched by this artistic, economic and community development organization. More than 40 kids, from grades 2 through 7 are featured on Based on a True Story. And this isn't a rag-tag, "Oh, aren't they precious" bunch-these children deliver the goods! Choir directors Alvin Richardson and Steve Smallman deserve major props for insuring that Sandtown's brisk mix of hip-hop, pop and gospel sensibilities retain authenticity.

Smallman and Richardson also share songwriting credits on eight of the album's nine original tracks. Best among those are the bubbly "Way You Love Me," Richardson's solo turn on "Destiny" and an undeniably funky version of "America." But its star cameos will likely draw most ears to Sandtown's debut. TobyMac rocks the mic on "Part of Me," Out of Eden's Lisa Kimmey smolders on "Walk With Me." But as the old show-biz adage about not trying to upstage a children's act goes, the high-profile cameos never overshadow the prodigious talents of the young choir. -B.A.B

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