Boomerang featuring Mark Stein
Boomerang- by definition, something that returns to the originator. Mark Stein may have been ahead of his time. As a founding member of Vanilla Fudge, largely remembered for the hit “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” Stein cultivated an organ rich sound that influenced other heavy organ rock bands, most notably, Deep Purple; Stein is credited as an originator of sounds that bridged psychedelia with what eventually became heavy metal.
I’m not sure that is an entirely accurate picture of the music at the time; there were lots of “heavy rock” bands in the era (think: Iron Butterfly) and Vanilla Fudge seemed to have more range and versatility than many, covering a wide variety of Beatles tunes, Donovan and even “The Look of Love.” The band’s biggest hit was an R & B number. Their catalog is certainly worth revisiting but I wouldn’t put them in one slot, musically, though they are definitely “of the period.”
By the time the rock music business (emphasis on business) reached full swing, Vanilla Fudge was history. (The band has reformed over the years, but Stein worked with a number of other artists, including Tommy Bolin, Alice Cooper and Dave Mason in the years that followed).
Boomerang was released by a band Stein formed in the immediate aftermath—and though it carries the thematic elements that made Vanilla Fudge influential—bombastic organ work, wailing vocals and driving hard rock guitar and drums—it never did much commercially.
What of Boomerang? Was it simply an attempt to seize on musical developments that Stein was partly responsible for setting in motion? Stein seems to have dismissed the album, (see Tice Interview at p.4) as something he did while trying to come to grips with the loss of Vanilla Fudge- he was on top of the world, and then—nothing. At the age of 23. Stein nonetheless admits that they did “some pretty cool things” on that album. Id.
On its own merits, it’s a good album, and one that if not “lost,” certainly doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. It pops up in the used bins in stores and at record shows— copies are neither difficult to source nor expensive. It was released by RCA during the Dynaflex era which means very thin vinyI. However, I’ve never had an issue with the sound quality of such pressings, though they tend to warp if not stored properly.
My copy, otherwise pristine, needed a few rounds through the record flattening machine (what a lifesaver that thing is) and voila. The sound is very period hard rock; I like it!
“Juke” is a hard rocker with wailing vocals, driving guitars and all that comes with it, including that thick, rich organ sound. “Fisherman” is a slower ballad, it’s melodic, kind of what would happen if you mixed Mountain with Three Dog Night. The drumming is good and Stein’s vocals are in the zone. “Hard Times” starts with some rattly strings and has a blues sound on the guitar, but the vocals soar and the chorus isn’t very bluesy sounding. Some nice slide parts, though. It’s an odd juxtaposition of blues with pop, not bad, just hard to nail down (which is OK). The first side finishes with “Mockingbird,” which takes us into hard rock territory again—a kind of jubilant boogie that’s got it all—gospel voices and nice drive on the organ and guitar.
Side Two picks it up with “Cynthia Fever”—another rollicking rocker—these guys have got the vocal chops and that’s what drew my attention, but the playing is solid. “Brother’s Comin’ Home” starts with a nice piano part and then strings! A solid slow ballad—the vocal part really carries this—and with this instrumentation, you can hear a very good recording—the piano sounds “right” to my ears. The bass and strings sounds are good too. I’ve found most hard rock bands that recorded with an orchestra sounded like two different things playing at once, but the string arrangements work here as does the guitar playing with the string parts. The lead vocal part is stunning here—it’s very soulful.
The album wraps with “The Peddler,” a hard-edged guitar led piece—its style is reminiscent of Steppenwolf but it’s far “cleaner” sounding (and the recording is better too, since most of Steppenwolf’s recorded output isn’t the best, sonically though they were such a great band in their heyday). The pace picks up midway through the piece and drives it home in the great tradition of all those bands that relied on the Hammond B-3 for that thick rich tone. Gee, I wonder where these (other) guys got that from?
This record doesn’t really cut any new ground, but it’s not a disappointment either. Without the fame and talent of Stein—who was coming off a hugely successful and ultimately very influential run as Vanilla Fudge—any band that released this record would (and should) have been rightfully proud. Maybe that was the problem- Stein is really talented and it shows through here but it wasn’t enough to distinguish this record from the many others in the same vein released in this period.
With the vantage point of time and distance, we (and hopefully Stein himself) can appreciate this record for what it is.