Southern California, 1965. It was a formative time in American music history, and “Echo in the Canyon,” an entertaining documentary about the musical history of the Laurel Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles, doles out Sixties nostalgia by the bucketful. The artistic creativity and collaboration contained in this small area produced such iconic folk-rock groups like The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield and The Mamas and the Papas, all bands who gave birth to the California Sound.
Jakob Dylan (son of Bob) is preparing a concert to highlight the timelessness of tracks like “Monday Monday” and “In My Room.” Dylan travels around and chats up famous names like Brian Wilson, Ringo Starr, Michelle Phillips, Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Roger McGuinn and Jackson Browne with an expressionless, hipster monotone.
The interviews are presented as casual conversations, candid in a way that makes it feel like you’ve just run into an old friend. This extracts groovy little tidbits (like how the Rolling Stones didn’t have to roll their own joints, they had their butler do it for them every morning) that will delight music fans, and the shifts between talking head interviews and modern musical performances are well-paced.
Director Andrew Slater inserts concert footage from a few years ago that lets the music speak for itself, but not in its original form. Most of the songs are presented as updated covers by Gen X musicians like Fiona Apple, Jade Castrinos, Regina Spektor, and Beck (who looks awkward and uncomfortable the entire film). It’s the weakest part of the movie, and I wish there were even more interviews instead because it’s so interesting to hear aging musicians wax poetic about their wild, creative days in California. It’s not unlike sitting around a recording studio and shooting the breeze with undeniably cool old dudes.
It’s bittersweet to see some of these guys, especially the late Tom Petty as well as Beach Boys figurehead Wilson, who is in obvious poor health. This isn’t a wholly inclusive chronicle of events either, as there are large chunks history missing (with only passing mention of Joni Mitchell, for instance). But music buffs will find plenty to revel in, and might even learn a thing or two about this era of damn great music.