Echo in the Canyon

Movie Information

With Jakob Dylan as our guide, this enjoyable snapshot of the Laurel Canyon music scene in the late '60s questionably omits key figures and historical context.
Genre: Documentary/Concert Film
Director: Andrew Slater
Starring: Jakob Dylan, Roger McGuinn, Michelle Phillips
Rated: PG-13

When I think of the heady, dirty denim days of the 1960s Laurel Canyon music scene, I think of hippies strumming guitars in clouds of pot smoke, top-down convertibles wending their way up California roads lined with orange trees, Vietnam, the civil rights movement and always — always — Joni Mitchell.

And while we do get the hippies, weed, cars and guitars in Echo in the Canyon, a documentary love letter to this ultracreative music scene, we get none of the politics, the passion or even Joni, whose “Ladies of the Canyon” is a hallmark album of that time and place.

The film focuses on musicians in LA’s 1965-67 folk scene, before it went electric and before Mitchell’s album was released in 1970, which may account for this obvious exclusion.

First-time director Andrew Slater, a former Capitol Records executive, tells the story through vintage clips, paired with modern interviews conducted by executive producer and Wallflowers frontman Jakob Dylan. (Yes, Bob’s son, a fact noted merely once, in a lighthearted moment with musician David Crosby.) Jakob also performs contemporary — though not very ambitious — duets of Laurel Canyon classics like “In My Room,” “Never My Love” and “Expecting to Fly” with artists such as Cat Power, Beck and Regina Spektor. Granted, there’s really no reason to add frills. The songs still speak for themselves.

Dylan gives rapt, respectful attention to interviewees, including Crosby and Roger McGuinn on their years with The Byrds, plus Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Jackson Browne, Michelle Phillips (The Mamas & the Papas) and, most heartwarmingly, Tom Petty, in his final filmed interview. Petty shares that he won The Beach Boys’ masterpiece album Pet Sounds in a radio trivia contest when he was a kid and says seeing them perform live with Buffalo Springfield blew his mind. “That’s as good as it’s supposed to be,” he reflects. “Maybe better.”

Brian Wilson, the genius composer behind Pet Sounds, is noted many times as an inspiration, even for the Beatles. Wilson says their Rubber Soul inspired him to write Pet Sounds, which in turn inspired the Beatles to write Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, perfectly illustrating the Canyon’s insular love fest.

Yet even with all this rich material, the film sometimes feels a bit dry and intellectual. It’s also undeniably racially and sonically homogeneous, which makes some sense, given the makeup of the scene and the brief timeline it covers. But in the midst of the fraught, raging 1960s, Echo in the Canyon feels encased in bubble wrap. No racism, no sexism, no war — no Joni. What we get instead are memories of drug-fueled high jinks, sage insights from legendary elders and a memorable falling-out over an ode to a ménage à trois.

Still, Echo in the Canyon is worth seeing. It’s an enjoyable snapshot of a magical, musical time, and fans of that era will surely feel the reverence and love from all involved. But they probably shouldn’t expect to feel much soul.

About Melissa Williams
I love all three major Barrys: Gibb, White & Manilow.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.