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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.

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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."

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