Fans of classic folk rock should find just enough to enjoy in "Echo in the Canyon," director Andrew Slater's entertaining but frustratingly slight retrospective on the music scene that arose out of the Los Angeles Laurel Canyon neighborhood in the mid-60's.
Laurel Canyon at that time happened to contain a collection of like-minded musicians, singers, and songwriters who influenced and inspired one another to write some of the greatest songs of all time. This brief but fertile period (lasting roughly 1965-67), and its atmosphere of collaborative, freewheeling creativity would end up producing such iconic groups as The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, and The Mamas and the Papas.
While the musical legacy of the groups that emerged from that particular scene in unimpeachable, the film attempting to chronicle the period is more of a mixed bag.
"Echo in the Canyon" takes the form of a hangout documentary as Slater follows Jakob Dylan (lead singer of The Wallflowers, and Bob Dylan's son) as he interviews a host of legendary musicians and singers, including Tom Petty, Brian Wilson, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, and Michelle Phillips, who all offer insight into their experiences from the era.
Their music has endured for a reason, and the charismatic collection of musicians offer up some choice anecdotes. There's enough potential material here to fill an entire miniseries, but crammed into a barely 90-minute runtime, it comes in bits and pieces and feels wildly incomplete. It doesn't help that large chunks of the all-too-brief film are taken up by covers of these classic songs performed by Dylan with some of his 90's-era contemporaries, Fiona Apple, Beck, Norah Jones, Cat Power, and Regina Spektor.
These performances were the result of an album and tribute concert produced by Slater and Dylan in 2015 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Laurel Canyon scene. But with Dylan always front and center, providing lead vocals in addition to his lackluster interviewing skills, the entire thing comes across as self-indulgent.
There's just not enough time to delve into the material with the depth and insight it deserves. Since we've got this younger generation of musicians, I'd have loved to hear from them about why this music means so much to them and what impact it had on their own careers. As it is, "Echo in the Canyon" fulfills its title, as the power of the music it hopes to honor gets fainter with every repetition we hear.