A documentary by Andrew Slater. Rated PG
It’s clear from the start that Echo in the Canyon is a labour of love for Jakob Dylan, who pursued his obsession with SoCal folk-rock with the help of first-time director Andrew Slater, former head of Capitol Records and also the younger Dylan’s manager.
The doc is organized around a 2015 concert that featured guests like Beck, Cat Power, Regina Spektor, and Fiona Apple joining Jakob on iconic tunes originally done by the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and the Beach Boys—none of them B-listers in any sense but alphabetical.
Snippets of these classics, plus rehearsals, are intercut with great archival clips and extended visits with founding Byrds Roger McGuinn and David Crosby, frequent visitors Ringo Starr and Eric Clapton, ex-Hollie Graham Nash, and Michelle Phillips, of the Mamas and the Papas, all dreamily recalling heady days and nights in Laurel Canyon.
There are also pithy observations from relative youngsters Jackson Browne and (the late) Tom Petty, who muses on the enduring influence of McGuinn’s 12-string Rickenbacker.
Crosby would eventually take flight, alongside the rambling Nash and roaming Buffalos Stephen Stills and Neil Young (seen wailing in the end-credit sequence), to create supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young—inexplicably not mentioned here.
There’s a lot more missing.
At 82 minutes, it would be hard to cover that much territory, and there’s an attempt to restrict things to the key 1965-67 era, but that makes the monochromatic exclusion of Laurel Canyon racially integrated scene leaders Love and their close followers the Doors even stranger.
Most egregious of all is the absence of Joni Mitchell, whose breakthrough album was titled, ahem, Ladies of the Canyon.
Okay, maybe she represents a ’70s turn towards singer-songwriter introspection, later shared by neighbours Carole King and James Taylor. It was Crosby who brought the Canadian there in ’67, whereupon she became close to social queen bee Mama Cass and subsequently moved with then newcomer Nash into their very, very, very fine house.
Instead, we get a lot of nice but familiar info on the mutual influences of the Beach Boys and Beatles—neither of which were Canyon dwellers.
Despite his authorial interest, Dylan also makes a rather passive tour guide, and does little to establish a physical sense of the place and time. Still, it’s fascinating to even scratch the surface of a musical world this deep.