Review: 'Echo in the Canyon' is a blast from the past

Posted September 06,2019 - 04:13 PM

I love music. I enjoy all types and genres, but naturally being born in 1974, I'm more partial to music that I grew up with. As a child, I was mostly influenced by the pop and rap of the 1980s before I finally discovered Pearl Jam in high school during the summer of 1992. After that, my education in music truly began.

Given my penchant for Pearl Jam, I initially gravitated towards similar acts from the 1970s such as Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. It wasn't until later in life that I really took the time to dig into The Beatles and other artists from the 1960s. This is ironic because I always had a soft spot in my heart for folk music whether it was Dylan or Peter, Paul and Mary. And yet, I'm still a bit of a novice when it comes to the Laurel Canyon sound of the 1960s.

I'll give you a great example. I recently watched Once Upon a Time in Hollywood for the second time. There's a scene in the film where they call out Steve McQueen, Jay Sebring, and Michelle Phillips. Naturally, I knew who Steve McQueen and Jay Sebring were thanks to the former's acting career and the latter's notoriety as a victim of the Manson family, but I had no clue who Michelle Phillips was.

The second time I watched Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, I knew exactly who she was. No, I didn't google her between viewings, I simply watched Echo in the Canyon and I realized the importance of who she was. I also figured out that Mama Cass was also at the Playboy party in the movie.

You see, I knew who The Mamas & The Papas were, but I didn't who was in the group, beyond Mama Cass naturally. Echo in the Canyon is the film that really should be required viewing for any music fan. The film explores the pop music renaissance that prominently sprang up in the Laurel Canyon area of California in the 1960s that combined folk music and rock and roll. They included such seminal acts as The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, and The Mamas & The Papas and they both were influenced by and influenced The Beatles. In other words, this is an important period of American music and Echo in the Canyon attempts to shed more light on the vibe and atmosphere that birthed this sound.

Sure, The Beach Boys have gotten the lion's share of coverage of this particular musical sound, but thanks to filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino, we are force-fed a deep dive of the era and we are infinitely better off because of it. Back in 2015, Jakob Dylan released a duets album about the era and hosted a concert in L.A. to celebrate the era and Echo in the Canyon springs forth from those efforts, but it also forges its own identity.

The best part of Echo in the Canyon isn't the music (although it is a very close second), it's the camaraderie of the surviving artists as they share their recollections of this influential time. The film spends more time making the musical connections to the bigger musical picture at the time that just didn't belong at the concert or on the album.

There's an extended interview with Ringo Starr in which he talks reverently about this West coast sound and how they were both in awe of and inspired by it to make their records even that much better. It's easy to simply sweep a lion's share of this music under the rug, but it's important to see the threads that are still influencing music today whether it's Fiona Apple or Beck or the like.

Jakob Dylan makes a knowledgeable host, but the filmmakers wisely included as much footage as they could from the recently departed Tom Petty. He recounts concerts that he attended as a fan during this time and how they influenced his own music. As one of the last times that we will see Petty on film, his words seem to take on a whole new level of significance as he effuses his praise on the acts from Laurel Canyon.

Part musical, part storyteller Echo in the Canyon is a brilliant exposé of this pivotal moment in music. It's easy to get lost other cultural touchstones of this time such as Elvis, or The Beatles or The Doors, but this sound is right up there with the legends in terms of musical influence. It truly is the soundtrack of American music and if you listen close enough, you can hear freedom ringing in their refrains.

Echo in the Canyon is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.