Six Picks: Recommendations from the Monitor staff

A Scottish songbird's debut, a Katrina survivor's bluesy tribute, a documentary celebrating black talent in America, and more.

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scottish songbird

Amy MacDonald, a songwriting star from Glasgow who has already topped the British charts, is easily recognizable for singing in a distinct Scottish brogue. But the accent is firmly on anthemic tunes on her impressive debut album, This Is the Life. MacDonald gives her guitar plectrum plenty of wear and tear on acoustic-led stompers such as "Run," "Mr. Rock and Roll," and the title track. Sample them on her MySpace page – or simply wait for them to become pop-radio staples.

black in America – a celebration

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

Prominent African-Americans address the camera and tell poignant, humorous, and candid stories of their lives – their inspirations, aspirations, and struggles. Toni Morrison talks of writing being the "only free place" for her. Vernon Jordan points out there is a definition of black America but none for white America. The Black List, Vol. 1, (on HBO Aug. 25 at 9 p.m. ET/PT) celebrates their diversity and talent. Musician Sean Combs, activist Al Sharpton, and tennis star Serena Williams are among the 22 portraits.

KATRINA SURVIVOR REINVENTS BLUES

Suppose you've been recording R&B hits since the 1960s. Suppose New Orleans was your beloved home – and hurricane Katrina severely damaged it. What then? You could enlist 12 star pianists (including Dr. John and the least publicized Marsalis, Ellis) and sing your autobiography indirectly through songs like "This Bitter Earth" and Randy Newman's eerie "I Think It's Going to Rain Today," all with bluesy determination and gospel fervor. Get to know the better-than-ever Soul Queen of New Orleans, Irma Thomas. The title of the CD is earned: Simply Grand (Rounder).

from the 'garages' of Ireland

Listen to unsigned Irish rock bands on newly launched Radio Ireland (www.radioireland.rokz.biz) – the latest bid to bypass the music industry's hold on new acts. The original music is as edgy and creative as many commercial bands are not.

WATCH THE HAND OF TIME

It's oddly calming to see the seconds "scribble" by as a hand silently writes a number in a box, quickly erases it, writes the next number, erases it, writes the next – 4, 5, 6.... Boxes for minutes, hours, days, months, and years await less frequent scribbles – www.yugop.com/ver3/stuff/03/fla.

DOCUMENTING A DESIGN FOR HOPE

Architecture School, a six-part documentary, portrays the absorbing story of students and faculty in the URBANbuild program at Tulane University. Students spend a semester designing and constructing a low-cost, single-family house. Their construction site? An impoverished, crime-riddled New Orleans neighborhood still reeling from Katrina. Share in the emotional roller coaster as students become professionals through tough-minded faculty guidance, trial and error with materials, and befriending neighbors. This rare series honors students building hope. Premières Aug. 20 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the Sundance Channel.

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