Top Picks: National Geographic's photographers' stories, The Blind Boys of Alabama's new album, and more

A group of top recording artists from Mali and an American blues singer produce a remarkable album, 'Frontline' presents an essential documentary on football injuries, and more top picks.

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    League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis
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Cultural melodies

Yo-Yo Ma’s latest collaboration with the Silk Road Ensemble, A Playlist Without Borders (Sony Masterworks), continues the ensemble’s tradition of drawing inspiration from the different cultures along the ancient trade route. The extraordinary tracks, dreamed up by people who play such instruments as the tabla, gaita, and sheng, have culturally evocative titles such as “Drag the Goat,” inspired by the Central Asian horseback sport of buzkashi, which uses a goat carcass as the ball.

Photographic wonders

Recommended: BCS National Championship Game: It’s Alabama football quiz time!

How many times have you picked up a National Geographic and wondered, “How did they get that picture?” Now hear the back story from the magazine’s daring photographers, including stunning footage of sea creatures, animals from India’s Kaziranga National Park, and the Titanic’s resting place. National Geographic Photographers: The Best Job in the World honors the magazine’s 125th anniversary and airs Oct. 11 at 8 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel.

A pro game’s lasting repercussions

Frontline” presents a documentary that every football parent and fan needs to watch, League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis. The two-hour special examines the lasting effect of a career spent colliding with others on the football field. Drawing on interviews with scientists and former players, as well as medical records, “Frontline” shows evidence of what some see as the devastating consequences, including dementia and other diseases – and that the NFL allegedly worked for years to keep this information from the public. It airs Oct. 8 on PBS (check local listings).

Mali all-stars

What happens when you bring together some of Mali’s top recording artists and an American blues singer – JeConte – in a Bamako recording studio in the middle of a coup d’état? The answer is a remarkable album called Mali Blues with powerful messages for peace and understanding. Listen for the lyrical guitar work of Vieux Farka Touré on “Le Monde Pour la Paix” (The World for Peace), along with the vocals of Khaira Arby and Bassekou Kouyaté on the n’goni lute. 

Grandfather gospel group

The Blind Boys of Alabama see the world through a spiritual lens. On I’ll Find a Way, the veteran group (est. 1939) delivers uplifting gospel songs chosen by Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver). As producer, Vernon occasionally adds a watercolor smudge to the sounds of blues and New Orleans jazz. Guest singers such as Vernon, Patty Griffin, and Merrill Garbus perform with gusto, but it’s the oaken voices and evergreen harmonies that touch the heart.

Artful parenting

Plenty of parents enjoy craft collaborations with their bubbly offspring. Artist and illustrator Mica Angela Hendricks of busymockingbird.com took it up a notch when she began skillfully sketching character heads and then passing them to her 4-year-old daughter to “complete” (and then taking them back for one last pass). The whimsical results are inspired. Go to http://bit.ly/FancifulArt.

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