When I lived in Los Angeles, I frequently drove through Laurel Canyon on the way to and from work and I knew that over the years it had been famous for its arty inhabitants. I even looked at a rental house or two there, since I loved the counterculture vibe of the place. Echo in the Canyon is a documentary celebrating the musicians of the mid-60’s who lived there and invented folk-rock together and separately. The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, The Mamas and the Papas and so many of the biggest groups of the day were there, creating and collaborating. The film is hosted by Jakob Dylan, lead singer-songwriter of the band The Wallflowers. He sits down for chats with an array of famous 20th century musicians – including Brian Wilson, Ringo Starr, Michelle Phillips, Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Roger McGuinn, Jackson Browne, and Tom Petty in his very last film interview. And those interviews are intercut with the making of an album and a 2015 Los Angeles tribute concert with contemporary artists (Beck, Fiona Apple, Cat Power, Regina Spektor and Norah Jones) performing some of the songs made famous by those musicians of the canyon. It’s a lot of fun.
When I first read about it, I thought it was probably just a film for baby boomers eager to take that trip down memory lane with the big acts from our youth. But it’s more than that, as the concert shows. The songs they perform of that era are amazingly contemporary. And the stories that are told about the music scene and the inter-band dynamics are enlightening and sometimes pretty funny. There is a longer interview with Tom Petty who talks about how the California scene influenced his work. And the way that all the artists influenced one another, sharing, building upon each others’ work, and collaborating in a very 60s peace and love fashion is inspiring. But some of the best moments in the film are when the original artists themselves perform in the studio.
If you’re into music, contemporary or not, you’ll probably have a great time with this movie. And you’ll most likely want to pull out some old vinyl or download a song or two afterwards. I know I’d like to give a listen to the album they’re making in the film. If you plan to see it in a theater, make sure they have a good sound system.
[Mainstream Chick’s take: As soon as I saw this one, I knew Arty Chick would like it! We’re both nostalgic for that drive ‘over the hill’ via Laurel Canyon and we both tend to appreciate a good documentary with great music. I agree that while the interviews/stories are interesting, the film is at its best when the artists are performing. ‘Echo in the Canyon’ echoes with musical poetry the likes of which we rarely hear anymore. And it sure would’ve been cool to be a fly on the wall at Mama Cass’s place (which happens to get a mention in the Elton John biopic Rocketman). Mainstream and Arty Chick see eye to eye on this one! Folk music fans especially should definitely seek it out. -hb]