Critic's Choice for the week of December 6-12, 2006 

Death Cab for kids, a cappella for Christmas, and Dead Meadow for president.

Smoky Americana

Berkeley's own Claudia Russell is a smoky-voiced thrush able to deliver a cosmopolitan lounge blues or a bluegrass romp with equal aplomb. Her second self-produced CD, Ready to Receive, is earning rave reviews and national airplay. She also is a fine guitar picker and songwriter, with tunes like "Oh California" and "Just Like You" sounding like ready-made Americana hits. Husband and musical partner Bruce Kaplan will accompany her on mandolin and guitar. Russell opens for singer-songwriter Lucy Kaplansky at the Freight Saturday, December 9. 8 p.m., $25. TheFreight.org (j. poet)

A Cappella Quintessence

A cappella quintet SoVoSo's holiday concerts have become a much-anticipated tradition. On Monday at Yoshi's, the group hosts its fifth annual "Seasonings" concert, harmonizing on new songs, seasonal favorites, and some tunes that reach back to its birth as Bobby McFerrin's Voicestra. The fun includes the group's reworking of Tchaikovsky's Christmas staple, which we will not name (but it starts with "N" and ends with "cracker"). Current members Zoé Ellis, Joey Blake, David Worm, Sunshine Becker, and Bryan Dyer will be joined by guests including saxophonist Dave Ellis, singer Faye Carol, and illustrious alumni Rhiannon and Destani Wolf, along with the Arts First Oakland Circle Singers Choir and dance and circus artists. Monday, December 11. 8 and 10 p.m., $14/$10. Yoshis.com (Larry Kelp)

Blessed Orange Amps

Though the band hails from Washington, DC, Dead Meadow could easily call San Francisco home. The droning, fuzz-toned basslines (think Sleep's Holy Mountain or Acid King's Busse Woods) of its third album Shivering Kings and Others transitioned to sprawling shoegazer-like psychedelia on last year's Feathers. Fresh off a tour with fellow throwback band Wolfmother, Dead Meadow takes the stage at Slim's on Friday, December 8 with Spindrift and Citay. 9 p.m., $14. Slims-SF.com (Kathleen Richards)

Shoegaze at Stars

Props to Roger Anderson for organizing the Bay Area's brightest shoegaze and dream-pop bands for the second installment of his Cool Waves Festival at SF's House of Shields. Named after his Web site, the Cool Waves Festival features six bands (including his own, Halcyon High) in two nights, plus the DJ outfit Injection (host of a new monthly shoegaze, psych-pop, indie-rock night at the same venue), will spin between sets. Excuses for Skipping, One Before One Hundred, and Ellul play on Friday, December 8. Oceans of Fire, Cupids, and Halcyon High play on Saturday, December 9. 9 p.m., $5. Hear song clips at CoolWavesSF.com/festival2.shtml (K.R.)

Pan-Religious Choral

San Francisco Choral Artists, the superb 24-voice semiprofessional chamber choir directed by Magen Solomon, celebrates the holiday season this Sunday afternoon in Oakland's St. Paul's Episcopal Church with From Darkness to Light — music from the world's Christian, Jewish, and pagan traditions. Guided by local historian Stephen Wilson, the program includes three world premieres from Hungary, Germany, England, Scandinavia, France, and good old born in the USA. Sunday, December 10. 4 p.m., $25-$18. SFCA.org (Jason Victor Serinus)

Local Sampler

New band buzz and experienced musicianship combine in Honeycut's highly-touted, swaggering live show. Call it Rolling Stones meets Depeche Mode, in the steel caaaaaage! The latest from local label Quannum shares a mostly local bill this week with Sugarcult, Street to Nowhere, and the Oohlas for the Live 105 Soundcheck Holiday Party. Cheap, too! Wednesday, December 13 at Popscene in SF. 7:30 p.m., $13. Popscene-SF.com (D2)

Death Cab Kaboom

The band is headlining a KFOG concert. They're alums of The OC. And its last album — and major-label debut — Plans sold nearly ninety thousand copies in its first week. It's safe to say that Seattle's Death Cab for Cutie has "made it." Thankfully, it hasn't forgotten the little people. The indie popsters stop by the Paramount Theatre with Feist this week for KFOG's Concert for Kids, a benefit for the Marines' Toys for Tots and Children's Hospital of Oakland. Attendees are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped book or toy. The show is sold out, but you can win tickets by listening to KFOG. Thursday, December 7. 7:30 p.m. KFOG.com (K.R.)

Arabian Night

On his 2006 album Raivolution, Tunisian singer MC Rai unleashed a sonic jihad which set cascading ouds and percolating gimbris against modern beats, infusing traditional Arabic music with a hip, urban sensibility while retaining the passionate delivery of the classic muezzins from Scheherezade's time. His music is the soundtrack for an electronic caravanserai that border-crosses different genres (including dancehall reggae and hip-hop), bringing the North African Saharan diaspora to the Bay Area club scene and vice versa. In fact, that's what you can expect to hear when Rai headlines the "Sonic Souk" at the Elbo Room in SF, also featuring Jef Stott (Raivolution's coproducer) and the Embarka Sound System, DJ Sep, and a dance performance by the Nekyia. Friday, December 8. 10 p.m., $8-$10. JamBaseTickets.com (Eric K. Arnold)

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