‘Well, I hear that Laurel Canyon is full of famous stars/But I hate them worse than lepers and I’ll kill them in their cars’. Neil Young might have been writing in the character of a right-wing gun nut on 1974’s bleak ‘Revolution Blues’, but there’s an authentic note of personal bitterness about his target. Hollywood’s Laurel Canyon was the cradle of California’s mid-’60s folk-rock explosion, as artists like The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and The Mamas And The Papas set up home and started sharing songs, joints and bedfellows in a creative but ultimately rather precious coming together. It was a countrified version of the hippies of San Francisco, located within handy driving distance of downtown LA and its record companies. Inevitably, it all went bad, but for a bit, it looked like a lot of fun if you were one of the gang.
‘Echo in the Canyon’ is a nostalgically smog-tinted celebration of the scene. ‘Hosted’ by Bob Dylan’s son Jakob, it’s a mix of talking heads and footage from a concert where Jakob and guests – Beck, Cat Power, Regina Spektor and others – perform hits of the era. Given this format, it all feels a bit toothless. Nobody has a bad word to say about anyone (okay, Dave Crosby does call himself an ‘asshole’), which is odd when you consider the amount of drugs and egos flying around.
Its extreme reverence also means that anything a bit weird really stands out: there’s a super-awks evening round at Jakob’s where his guests fondle tatty old LPs and have to watch a clip on TV; there’s Ringo Starr standing stiffly beside a convertible down an alleyway; and there’s Eric Clapton, wearing Adidas joggers and talking about the influence of The Beach Boys on Cream.
There are frustrating omissions – among them Joni Mitchell – and you do wonder how much the music clearance for Jakob’s gig informed who got included, but if you’re into this stuff it’s no hardship to see it all again. Just pretend lockdown is an extra-long New Year’s Eve, and they’ve extended ‘Hootenanny’ accordingly. Altogether, now (yes, Neil, you too): HOOTENANNY!
Available in the UK on Jun 8.