Nina Simone

Emergency Ward!

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This unusual record from 1972 is Nina Simone's statement on the Vietnam War. The cover is a collage of news clippings from the conflict, and the song selection and arrangement, though dealing with matters more spiritual than political, reflect the events of the day. The entire first side consists of a powerhouse medley of George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" and a poem by David Nelson called "Today Is a Killer," set to music by Simone. The Harrison song is transformed into a sweaty gospel workout that takes its rhythm from the Capitols' "Cool Jerk" and its call-and-response vocal arrangement from the Reverend James Cleveland. Simone artfully alternates the celebratory romp with slow, somber passages featuring her improvised lyrics and passages from the Nelson poem. Even as it passes the 18-minute mark, the medley never loses power, and it remains one of Simone's finest moments. After the triumph of the first side, the flip is only a slight letdown. "Poppies" is melodically vague, but Simone's strong delivery sells it, while George Harrison's "Isn't It a Pity" gets an intense, drawn-out treatment, mostly featuring just Simone's piano and voice. The cover of Emergency Ward! claims it was recorded in concert, but only the first side appears to be live, and even that is riddled with sloppy edits. Though it is one of the stranger records in the Simone oeuvre, Emergency Ward! is consistently thrilling.

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