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Top Picks: Natalie Prass's self-titled album, the movie 'The Tale of Princess Kaguya,' and more

The Smithsonian Channel's 'Legend of Lead Belly' tells the story of influential American folk and blues musician Huddie 'Lead Belly' Ledbetter, the documentary 'American Denial' investigates where America stands today in terms of race relations, and more top picks.

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Baroque soul

The first thing you notice about the self-titled album by singer Natalie Prass is the sound: strings, horns, a stately piano, even a cascading harp, all framing a tiny but expressive voice. It’s a majestic record, yet intimate and personal – full of ache and regret – a kind of baroque soul music. This is a stunning and stirring debut from an intriguing new artist.

Race relations

In 1944, sociologist Gunnar Myrdal released a study about race in the United States titled “An American Dilemma.” The study would later be referenced in Brown v. Board of Education. In the documentary American Denial, director Llewellyn Smith investigates where America stands today in terms of race relations – and it’s probably not as advanced as many of us would like to believe. It premières on “Independent Lens” on PBS Feb. 23 at 10 p.m. 

Japanese anime

The Tale of Princess Kaguya, directed by Studio Ghibli cofounder Isao Takahata, centers on the Japanese folk tale of a baby princess who is discovered inside a bamboo shoot by a peasant. The movie is a near-masterpiece and is lyrical and heartbreaking in ways that most live-action movies never approach. “The Tale of Princess Kaguya” is available on DVD and Blu-ray Feb 17.

Deep blue roots

American folk and blues musician Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter inspired generations of musicians, from The Weavers to the Grateful Dead, from Van Morrison to The Beach Boys and even Nirvana. Yet few people know of his journey from an impoverished Southern childhood and brushes with the law to becoming a 12-string guitarist who played alongside Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. His story Legend of Lead Belly premières on the Smithsonian Channel Feb. 23 at 8 p.m. 

Swede sounds

If you’re going to call your band The Amazing you’d better live up to the billing. So how does the Swedish quintet fare on Picture You, its third album of psychedelic folk-rock? Amazingly well!  Whenever Christoffer Gunrup and Anna Järiven sing in unison, their voices entwine like a hug at an airport. The heat-haze guitar jams of “Picture You” and “Fryshusfunk” create a mirage of California circa the summer of ’67. 

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