I’ve always associated the phrase “Laurel Canyon music scene” with the singer-songwriter movement of the 1970s.
But as the documentary “Echo in the Canyon” — now being shown in several New Jersey theaters — makes clear, things were happening in the Laurel Canyon area of Los Angeles well before then.
The film — directed by Andrew Slater and featuring Jakob Dylan as both the interviewer of legendary ’60s musicians and the leader of a group of relatively young artists who play their own versions of Laurel Canyon songs — focuses on the mid-’60s and pretty much ignores everything that came after. Which means there’s lots here on The Byrds and The Beach Boys and Buffalo Springfield and The Monkees and The Mamas and the Papas. But little to nothing on Joni Mitchell and The Eagles and Linda Ronstadt.
Dylan interviews survivors of the scene (David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Michelle Phillips, Roger McGuinn) as well as musicians who were influenced by mid-’60s Laurel Canyon music but made their mark later (Jackson Browne, the late Tom Petty). Beck, Cat Power and Norah Jones are among the younger musicians who join Dylan in playing some of the older songs, and Stills, Neil Young and Eric Clapton (a Laurel Canyon visitor in the ’60s) sound terrific revisiting songs of the era. Young covers The Byrds’ “What’s Happening?!?!,” and Stills and Clapton join forces for Stills’ Buffalo Springfield song “Questions” (which influenced Clapton’s “Let It Rain”).
I’d definitely recommend this movie to anyone with an interest in classic-rock. On the other hand, the covers by Dylan, Beck, Jones et al. tend to be adequate rather than truly inspired. And in regard to the narrative, Slater and Dylan don’t really tell the story as deeply as I’d like them to.
Just like you wouldn’t want to hear an amateur musician play “California Dreamin’,” you really don’t want an amateur interviewer (Dylan) asking the questions. He gets the job done, but never pushes anyone toward revelatory territory.
There’s also one odd quirk to the film, just because he’s Bob Dylan’s son.
Now, I understand that he must be sick of talking about his father, at this point in his life. Revealingly, when I saw the film (screened at the Asbury Park Music and Film Festival this year) and he participated in a question-and-answer session afterwards, he responded to a question about his father with an almost comically curt one-word answer.
But as a result of his apparent desire to not linger too long on his father, lots of time in this film is devoted to The Beatles, but virtually none to Bob Dylan, who had as big or perhaps an even greater influence on Laurel Canyon artists. It felt like over-compensation to me.
For a list of theaters showing “Echo in the Canyon,” visit echointhecanyon.com/tickets.
Here is the movie’s trailer:
And here is a video of Dylan performing Tom Petty’s “The Waiting” (Dylan interviewed Petty for the film) at his post-screening mini-concert at the Asbury Park Music and Film Festival in April.
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