Echo in the Canyon Blu-ray Review: You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears

An important chapter in the history of rock is examined by those involved with it and those influenced by it.
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The “canyon” in question is Laurel Canyon, located in the Hollywood Hills of Southern California. With Jakob Dylan as host, Andrew Slater's documentary looks back at some of the musicians who lived, thrived, and influenced each other in that neighborhood, creating the folk-rock California Sound of 1965-67. The oral history is told through interviews of those who were there, such as David Crosby, Michelle Phillips, and producer Lou Adler; the next generation of musicians who were influenced by them, such as Tom Petty and Jackson Brown; and later generations who appreciate their accomplishments, such as Beck and Regina Specktor.

The story begins even earlier. Roger McGuinn credits the Beatles as progenitors, influencing him by melding folk chord changes with rock beat and he wasn't alone. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, also an important influence for these artists, says Rubber Soul influenced Pet Sounds, which in turn influenced Sgt. Pepper's. Wilson also credits Bach, Chuck Berry, the Four Freshmen, and producer George Martin. It's a shame Paul McCartney isn't shown offering his perspective as Adler talked about bringing an acetate of Pet Sounds to London and playing it for him.

After the folk-rock blend failed in front of audiences in New York City and Los Angeles, McGuinn got together with Crosby and Gene Clark to form the Byrds. It's funny when Crosby talks about playing “Tambourine Man” in the studio, teasing that “Dylan showed up.” Jakob teases right back asking him to be more specific. Crosby says when Bob heard them playing his song electric, it was clear he wanted to do that too as history as shown. I was surprised Bob wasn't given more credit as an influence. Other artists singing the Byrds's praises are John Sebastian, Eric Clapton, and Ringo Starr, who mentions that while hanging out in L.A., the Byrds introduced the Beatles "to a hallucinogenic situation."

In addition to the hearing stories about the Byrds and their songs, other major players in the California sound are discussed, such as the Mamas & the Papas and Buffalo Springfield, each only having one original member taking part, Phillips and Stephen Stills, respectively. It's unfortunate that Neil Young isn't interviewed, but he did take part, seen playing guitar on The Byrds “What's Happening” as the credits roll.

In 2015, at Los Angeles's Orpheum Theater, a concert was held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the music, and a soundtrack album for the documentary was being compiled. Interspersed between the interviews are performances from the concert, from the recording studio, and from rehearsals, demonstrating the vitality of the music.

The video is available in 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC. The documentary blends a lot of modern-day interview and performance footage with archival video and stills. The modern stuff appears in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 while the older material fluctuates. The former is all clean and well lit. The latter shows expected signs of age and wear.

Audio is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Dialogue is clear. The music of the songs, both live and studio versions, fill the surrounds with the vocals staying in the front. Like its video counterpart, the live archival material exhibits signs of age and wear. There are no extras on the disc, which is disappointing because many of the performances are incomplete.

Echo in the Canyon will install a better appreciation for this music, and make viewers seek out the songs, both the covers on the soundtrack and the original tunes. While there are more stories to tell from this neighborhood about these artists and others not covered, the film does a good job with the overview it presents.

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