Six Picks: Recommendations from the Monitor staff

'The African Queen' on DVD at last, Jamie Cullum's latest burst of talent on a new CD, a tale of forgiveness on Lifetime, and more.

Griffin-style gospel

In a way, Patty Griffin's voice has always sounded filled with the spirit: In songs dating back to her 1996 debut, she's a nuanced singer whose voice doesn't belt to the rafters but sounds more obsessed with the mystery. This new album, "Downtown Church" (Credential/EMI), finds her in a Presbyterian church in Nashville where, in a band led by country soul guitarist-producer Buddy Miller, she recorded traditional gospel songs and her own originals. The results are reminiscent of Bob Dylan's Christian period with a reverence that can be, at times, quite mesmerizing.

Physics for the rest of us

If you've ever wondered what happened before the big bang or where the universe is expanding, then the new book "A User's Guide to the Universe" (Wiley, $24.95) is for you. A hilariously serious journey through all the big questions (Can I build a time machine?) with answers from real-life physicist David Goldberg and sly illustrator Jeff Blomquist, this indispensable window on modern science makes a great nonfiction companion to the beloved, "A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

Female intelligence

As Nazi Germany tightened its grip on 1940s Europe, the strapped and increasingly desperate British began to recruit civilians, including women, to infiltrate and spy on occupied France. "Wish Me Luck," a British TV dramatic series that explores the real-life stories of these astonishingly courageous band of sisters, comes out on DVD from Acorn Media on March 16.

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

Talent to spare

Diminutive British singer Jamie Cullum is an outsized talent much too big to fit in a box. Neither truly jazz nor pop, he's a supercharged and wholly original hybrid of the two. His eclectic new album, "The Pursuit," proves the point, with unique takes on a few jazz standards (two!), exciting remakes of Rihanna's dance-floor smash "Don't Stop the Music," and a guest shot from the Count Basie Orchestra. Oh, yes, and a heart-wrenching version of Sondheim's "Love Ain't Gonna Let You Down" closes out the festivities. If Frank Sinatra and Amy Winehouse had a baby...

Huston classic

"The African Queen" (1951), the final film of the American Film Institute's 100 greatest movies to come out on DVD, pairs a hard-drinking boat captain (Humphrey Bogart) with a strait-laced missionary (Katharine Hepburn) for romantic adventures in East Africa. The restored movie includes the special feature "Embracing Chaos: Making of 'The African Queen.' "

Amish grace

When a Pennsylvania milkman walked into an Amish schoolhouse and killed five girls, even hardened news reporters were shocked. "Amish Grace," a TV drama about the event based on the book "Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy" takes viewers not into the dark deed, but into the hearts and minds of those who forgave the killer. This is a gentle, well-crafted, made-for-TV movie about a difficult subject done with dignity, insight, and, yes, grace. Airs on Lifetime Movie Network March 28 at 8 p.m.

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