Punk, polka, and puke

New releases: Sonic Youth, Los Lobos, The The, and Mr. Spock

Bands like Southern Culture on the Skids ("Venus"), Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet ("Popcorn," inedible in any rendition), Fig Dish ("Kung-Fu Fightin'"), and Susan Voelz ("Ode to Billy Joe") approach this material as though the songs were good once, as though such material as "Half Breed" just needs to be shed of its excessive baggage to be properly appreciated. But these musicians, as with all artists so dependent upon context, can't seem to decide whether they are mocking the music, rescuing it, or merely above it all; Voelz' self-serious take on "Billy Joe" sits somewhere in the middle ground, where it sinks underneath all that violin and heavy moaning.

But Star Power! is no The Brady Bunch Movie with each frame coated in the soft fade of self-awareness. Vic Chesnutt's "The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia" is genuinely, affectingly haunting; Red Red Meat's "I'm Not in Love" comes out so straightfaced and sincere it rescues the original; Brown Betty's "Don't Give Up on Us" recalls Funland in a mood; Rex Daisy's "Welcome Back" affectionately mimics its precursor so well it splits the difference between parody and homage; and the A-Bones rockabilly raveup of "Rock the Boat" is downright inspired if ultimately dispensable. Best joke of all: Veruca Salt was to have contributed their version of "My Sharona" till management decided to have the last laugh and steer clear.

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