Various Artists

Heaven & Hell: A Tribute to the Velvet Underground

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Upon its original release, Heaven & Hell seemed like any one of dozens of interchangeable tribute records, but with the benefit of hindsight, this homage to the Velvet Underground (itself just one of any number of discs feting the VU) now feels more like a singularly prescient time capsule documenting the early-'90s alt-rock explosion in all its glory. Nirvana ("Here She Comes Now"), the Screaming Trees ("What Goes On"), Buffalo Tom ("All Tomorrow's Parties"), James ("Sunday Morning"), and the Wedding Present ("She's My Best Friend") -- none of them well known outside of indie circles at the time of the collection's initial appearance -- highlight the all-star lineup, which also includes stunning contributions from shoegazer stalwarts Chapterhouse ("Lady Godiva's Operation") and the Telescopes ("Candy Says"). That Heaven & Hell surfaced on the tiny Atlanta-based Communion label speaks volumes about the relative obscurity of all concerned, but the record has artistic merit beyond its obvious novelty value -- while none of the acts attempt anything too radical, each smartly selects a VU song well-suited to their particular musical strengths (the James track is as good as anything on any of the band's own albums), and with the exception of the lone dud, Motorcycle Boy's "Run Run Run," the set maintains a consistency and cohesion rare among tributes of any kind.