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The Christmas Jug Band
When you start a band with the words "Christmas" and "Jug Band" in its name, wild ambition isn't your first priority -- it's commercial death by nomenclature, making you forever a subset of a musical subgenre. Which is fine, since the band members that make up this ersatz Bay Area supergroup have already made names for themselves elsewhere. For its third album, Rhythm on the Roof, the mostly acoustic group reassembles Dan Hicks as well as alumni from Commander Cody, Those Darn Accordions, the Steve Miller Band, and Country Joe & the Fish to create a brand of Christmas music that's irreverent, yet avoids cheap novelties like getting Grandma run over by a reindeer.

There is plenty of goofball holiday chintz on Rhythm on the Roof: "Santa Don't Do It" mocks the Red Hot Chili Peppers' rap-funk, and "Christmas Time Is Here" uses washboards and jugs (of course) to bemoan the yearly ritual of "snowballs flying/ Pine trees dying." Still, there's a high level of talent -- particularly Paul Rogers' piano -- that salvages so much of "Daddy's Drinking Up Our Christmas" that it's more sincere ballad than cheap joke. Mainly, though, it's a fine showcase for Hicks, who perfected his subtle, drowsy, and hilarious delivery long ago with the likes of "Canned Music." It serves him well on "Mr. Santa," his interpolation of "Mr. Sandman," as well as on the suave dixieland of "The Real Deal." It sounds timeless, and that's no small thing when you're talking about Christmas records and jug bands.

-- Mark Athitakis

The Christmas Jug Band plays Wednesday, Dec. 23, at 8 p.m. at Sweetwater, 153 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley. Tickets are $10; call 388-2820.

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