Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 3, 2019)
Many music fans know of the “Laurel Canyon sound”, a mellow style of rock that took root in the late 1960s. For a deeper look at this topic, we go to 2019’s Echo in the Canyon.
Like most documentaries, this one mixes archival footage with new interviews. In the latter domain, we hear from record producer Lou Adler and musicians Tom Petty, Beck, Eric Clapton, Brian Wilson, Ringo Starr, Stephen Stills, Norah Jones, Fiona Apple, David Crosby, Michelle Phillips, Cat Power, Jackson Browne, John Sebastian, Jade, Graham Nash, Roger McGuinn, and Regina Spektor.
Led by musician Jakob Dylan, Echo looks at how the Laurel Canyon area of California became a Mecca for musicians. It also gets into the roots and development of the “sound” as well as examples of the genre.
This all culminates in a concert dedicated to the Laurel Canyon sound. This show features Dylan and others of his generation as they play some of the influential songs.
Don’t expect Echo to conclude with that concert, though. Instead, snippets from it appear throughout the film. It seems logical to make the full show a bonus feature on this disc, but that doesn’t occur.
I don’t really understand what purpose the concert serves. To bring the Laurel Canyon songs to a younger generation?
I guess, but a band headlined by Jakob Dylan doesn’t seem like an avenue to the youth of 2019. Sure, Dylan and the others are younger than the artists whose songs they play, but it’s not a crew likely to bring in the kids.
The use of the concert feels contrived anyway, and it seems unnecessary in the long run. Echo fares best when it concentrates on the interviews with the 1960s musicians, and the shots of the newer live performances simply distract.
Echo benefits from the presence of so many original musicians. It becomes pretty enjoyable when we hear from those artists, especially because so many seem blunt and honest.
Not that you’ll find much dirt here, but some good stories appear. I like the bit where Clapton admits he “borrowed” a Buffalo Springfield riff for his song “Let It Rain”.
Dylan even tells Clapton that they can edit out that admission, but Clapton seems happy to make it known. These occasional “uncensored” moments work nicely.
Heck, we even get Brian Wilson on a rare coherent day! Or at least the editing makes it appear that way.
In any case, the interviews become the best aspect of Echo. The construction of the documentary can falter, though, mainly because it lacks much obvious purpose.
Don’t expect Echo to deliver a concise history of the Laurel Canyon era. While it touches on some elements, it doesn’t provide a clear through-line.
Instead, Echo basically flits from one artist to another without much apparent logic. Given that the film runs a mere 83 minutes and the modern-day concert fills a lot of that, we get far too little time to dig into the various artists and albums, so we find ourselves with nuggets that fail to dig deeply.
All of this makes Echo more of a musical appreciation than a real documentary, and it seems like a superficial one at that. While we find some fun stories, the movie lacks real insights and it never quite gets into the material as well as it should. A longer version that drops the modern-day concert would work much better.