The birth of the California sound is the heart n' soul of former Capitol Records CEO Andrew Slater's feature directing debut, the entertaining and meaningful Echo in the Canyon, a Greenwich Entertainment release currently on an indie arthouse distribution tour follow its successful fest run.
For those unaware of what exactly is meant by "the birth of the California sound," Echo in the Canyon centers on the music scene of the mid-to-late 60's around Laurel Canyon, an area that for this brief sliver of time served as what could be described as a colony of sorts for the likes of the Beach Boys, the Byrds, the Mamas and the Papas, Buffalo Springfield and a host of others. With Jakob Dylan largely serving as the film's host and lead interviewer, Echo in the Canyon examines this period by talking directly to those who created it including such familiar names as Brian Wilson, Roger McGuinn, Michelle Phillips, Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, Jackson Browne, David Crosby and others. Dylan, frontman for The Wallflowers and Bob Dylan's son, obviously has enough familiarity with the era to make for an informed host yet he's also a charismatic, engaging host who doesn't seem to mind playing second fiddle to the iconic performers he interviews.
To his credit, Slater for the most part lets the music and the musicians do the talking in Echo in the Canyon. I must confess having been a tad shocked at the top of the film when the late Tom Petty's interview for the film came up and instantly filled my heart with a strong feeling of melancholy. Fortunately, melancholy is not a strong feeling throughout the film nor is any sense of nostalgia. Slater clearly has a higher vision for the film and for the most part succeeds in creating a film that is insightful about the past and aware of how that past impacted the future.
Being a part of what was essentially a music colony, the musicians featured in the film created something special even if it was relatively short-lived. With the help of a cooperative radio and television scene, these musicians created sounds that tended to overlap with one another. Some might call it stealing, I suppose, but it was a huge part of the communal nature of music at the time and music has long been better for it. Music was really in some sort of transition, existing somewhere between the wholesome early Beatles but not quite ready for the upcoming psychedelia. The Beach Boys were influencing the Beatles, really, by encouraging their experimentation and other groups were joining in that sense of collaboration and experimentation.
Echo in the Canyon weaves engaging and transparent interviews into this musical landscape as stories are told about the instruments used, the affairs had, the feuds that never quite resolved and much more. Along with these interviews, however, Slater adds concert footage, past and present, studio footage, and a wealthy of impressively produced re-interpretations by contemporary artists including Dylan, Regina Spektor, Cat Power, Beck, Norah Jones and, perhaps most impressively, Fiona Apple.
The stories shared are never less than interesting, though particular ones from Jackson Browne, David Crosby, and Tom Petty are most impressive and memorable. Even if you're not necessarily a fan of the music, somewhat hard to imagine, the entire experience is incredibly enjoyable and you'll likely find yourself humming along at various points throughout the film.
Echo in the Canyon is a beautiful film to watch from beginning to end, a laid back and breezy re-capturing of a key period in music that would eventually give way to a harder, edgier period as the nation got into Vietnam and music with a bit more edge became more popular and dominant.
While Echo in the Canyon isn't a mind-blowing musical journey, it's a relentlessly enjoyable one that should easily please most music fans and, most certainly, is a must see for fans of the California sound.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic