‘Echo in the Canyon’ Review: Jakob Dylan Anchors Immersive Documentary On The California Sound

Jakob Dylan and Tom Petty in Greenwich Entertainment's "Echo in the Canyon." (Screenshot)
Director Andrew Slater’s documentary Echo in the Canyon starts off with Jakob Dylan asking Tom Petty who to properly pronounce the Rickenbacker guitar. It’s an amusing opener, as Petty strums a bit before jokingly tells the viewer that the rest will cost too much. Actually, Echo in the Canyon is a priceless and value added look at the merging of folk and rock, a blend that was honed and crafted up in the hills of Laurel Canyon, California. Petty, who passed in 2017, was a fan of that era, and he is just one of the many reasons to check out the documentary.

Echo in the Canyon focuses on a several year period (circa 1964-67) when a slew of music artists lived in Laurel Canyon, crafting folk/rock tunes that would ultimately inform generations to come. Jakob Dylan, who serves as the interviewer and the main musician for the documentary, does an able job at giving viewers a peek into a time gone by while also incorporating his own colleagues (Fiona Apple, Beck, Norah Jones, Regina Spektor, Cat Power, Jade Castrinos) into the mix.

Director Andrew Slater’s inspiration for the documentary (at least from an atmospheric and tone level) comes from Jacques Demy’s 1969 feature Model Shop, a Los Angeles tale about a disillusioned man (Gary Lockwood) who becomes involved with a French divorcee (Anouk Aimee). Scenes from the picture, as well as a concert featuring Dylan and crew doing their versions of folk rock music from the mid ’60s, are cut together with Dylan’s sit down interviews with such musicians as Jackson Browne, Stephen Stills, Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, and Brian Wilson. A solid portion is also spent with Dylan in studio, as he offers up his take on the tracks. Even though he’s the son of Bob Dylan and has carved out a successful career on his own, he’s only human; having Wilson step in while he and other musicians are recording “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” must have been an intimidating experience!

“Echo in the Canyon” is now out on Blu-ray/DVD via Greenwich Entertainment and for streaming on Netflix. (Photo: screenshot)

Even at a scant 82 minutes, Echo in the Canyon packs a ton of memorable stories and performances to give us a full bodied look at the people who made a significant impact in our music culture. Stephen Stills has a hilarious story about evading the cops while his other friends took the fall, and it’s something that he still regrets to this day. Michelle Phillips doesn’t shy away from discussing her affair with The Mamas and the Papas bandmate Denny Doherty, and her infidelities inspired the John Phillips’ composition “Go Where You Wanna Go.” That track, which is featured on the soundtrack, features a great collaboration between Dylan and Jade Castrinos (who, by the way, simply soars during her vocals).

One segment that’s intercut throughout the doc includes a get together with Beck, Dylan, Cat Power, and Regina Spektor, and at one point Spektor discusses how the songwriting during this time may have come from the artists’ own exploration of their dreams and subconscious. It’s a brief moment that, in my opinion, could have been explored for just a bit longer. Plus having such accomplished and insightful artists as Spektor, Power, and Beck shooting the proverbial s**t with Dylan could have only been a great thing.

That said, Echo in the Canyon, available on Blu-ray and DVD (it’s also streaming on Netflix), is an inspired (and inspiring) look a California sound that still holds power as the years progress. It’s easily one of my favorite documentaries of 2019, and if (and when) you see it, I’d love to hear your take! Feel free to comment below!