Review: ‘Echo in the Canyon,’ Capturing a California Musical Moment

The delight of “Echo in the Canyon” is in the delicious details its subjects impart. Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas remembers Brian Wilson’s living room, a piano planted on the sand-covered floor as he wrote the Beach Boys’ influential “Pet Sounds” album; Tom Petty notes that “Pet Sounds” was considered to be responsible for “Sgt. Pepper”; a white-maned David Crosby reveals why he was ejected from the Byrds; and the narrator, the singer-songwriter Jakob Dylan, coaxes Stephen Stills to tell an embarrassing story about sneaking out the back when the police broke up one of the Laurel Canyon house party/jam sessions where the performers tried out their music, inspired each other’s work and got high.

The musicians were drawn — and dazzled — by the array of recording studios in Los Angeles and built a neighborhood in the canyon. They agree the peak of this period of change occupied a precise slice of the mid-’60s, before the psychedelic era. The Byrds were central to the scene, but their frontman, Roger McGuinn, makes the transformation they accomplished sound deceptively simple. Between honeyed acoustic guitar riffs, he explains that he merely “souped up” some folk chords with a Beatles beat.

Crosby, explaining as well as anyone the significance of the synthesis of rock ’n’ roll and folk that happened in Laurel Canyon, said: “We were putting good poetry on the radio, AM radio.”

The film, directed by Andrew Slater, centers on a 2015 50th-anniversary concert paying tribute to the music of Laurel Canyon and featuring artists of the next generation, including Cat Power, Beck and Norah Jones. But far more satisfying — and too few — were the snippets of the originals and clips like the present-day studio recording of Stills and Eric Clapton playing together.

Echo in the Canyon

Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 22 minutes.

Echo In the Canyon

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Helen T. Verongos is a senior staff editor on the Culture Desk. She is a former assistant editor of international news and a former deputy editor of the Continuous News Desk. @helentverongos Facebook

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