Top picks: Robert Plant, Cuba's unique flora and fauna, Patrick Dougherty's sculptures, and more

Robert Plant's new album 'Band of Joy,' PBS documentary on 'Cuba: an Accidental Eden,' sculptor Patrick Dougherty's new book 'Stickwork,' and more recommendations.

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    PBS “Nature” explores “Cuba: The Accidental Eden” on Sept. 26.
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Robert Plant's 'Joy'

At first blush, Robert Plant's new album "Band of Joy" (Rounder Records) is a de facto sequel to "Raising Sand," his Grammy-winning collaboration with Alison Krauss. Once again he wraps in blues, folk, and country-and-western, while Patty Griffin steps in for Krauss as the angelic voice of harmony. But "Band of Joy" is anything but formulaic and lives up to its title, though the joy is tempered by the brooding nature of many of the songs. Most appealing: a slow-building church stomp ("Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down"), a dash of Middle Eastern-accented Los Lobos ("Angel Dance"), and the delirious duet with Griffin on "House of Cards."

Tommy James's wild ride

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As the originator of "bubble gum" music (with No. 1 hits like "Hanky Panky" and "Crimson and Clover"), Tommy James seemed the very image of a pop star safe enough for your daughter to date. Or... not, definitely not. In this salty and entertaining autobiography, "Me, the Mob, and the Music" (Scribner), James spins the jaw-dropping story of his overnight transformation from wide-eyed Midwestern teen to captive cash cow of the New York Cosa Nostra. It's a fascinating glimpse of the dark side of the gold record.

Cuba untouched

Come along with PBS "Nature" on Sept. 26 as the signature series explores "Cuba: The Accidental Eden." The island nation is home to an astonishing array of animal and plant life that has flourished partly as a result of Cuba's economic and social isolation and in small part due to forward-looking environmental decisions. Join experts as they explore a world-class coral reef that is nearly unrivaled in size and health, and watch Cuba's unique critters from "jumping" crocodiles to the world's tiniest bat and owl.

Mambo maestro

Tune into PBS's "American Masters" on Sept. 20 at 9 p.m. to visit with the Father of Mambo, Israel "Cachao" Lopez. The bilingual film "Cachao Uno Mas" celebrates the vibrant rhythms and legacy of this classically trained Cuban musician. Although he held a post in the Havana Philharmonic Orchestra for 30 years, he explored and mastered the infectious music that for many defines the Cuban musical experience.

Classical iTunes

Conducting wunderkind Gustavo Dudamel wowed the classical music world with his debut at the helm of the Los Angeles Philharmonic last October. Now that extraordinary performance – which included Mahler's First Symphony and the world première of John Adams's "City Noir" – will be released on iTunes. This is the first full-length classical music video to appear on the music service and will be available Sept. 14 as part of DG Concerts from Deutsche Grammophon.

Twiggy ideas

Sculptor Patrick Dougherty bends, weaves, and flexes saplings into playful castles, nests, cones – shapes that blend into the environment. Sometimes they wrap around trees or railings or rooms. "Stickwork" (Princeton Architectural Press) is a beautifully photographed overview of his whimsical work.

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