Danny Boyle’s “Yesterday” isn’t the only new movie where great songs are coming out of the mouth of someone who doesn’t do them as well as the original artists. There’s also the documentary “Echo in the Canyon,” in which musician Jakob Dylan covers, with mixed results, songs by The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield and The Mamas and the Papas.
The occasion is a 2015 concert, organized by Dylan (Bob’s son and leader of The Wallflowers) and former record executive Andrew Slater (who also directs the documentary) to pay tribute to the Laurel Canyon era — that supposedly magical period from 1965 to 1967 when those bands flourished and provided much of the soundtrack of the 1960s.
The concert performances are OK, if not particularly memorable, as Dylan teams up with an all-star line-up of musicians including Fiona Apple, Norah Jones, Regina Spektor, Cat Power, Jade and Beck.
Slater also has Dylan interview some of the greats of that era, and he doesn’t draw much out of them that they haven’t said before. (The documentary “David Crosby: Remember My Name” is much more revealing about Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, who all appear in this film but not together.)
The Laurel Canyon scene was named for the semi-rural area in Los Angeles where many of the musicians lived, smoked pot and slept with each other. The bands inspired each other, and competed with each other, to produce the best music they could.
They also admired and wanted to outdo The Beatles, who were in full flower at the time. Brian Wilson describes how listening to “Rubber Soul” spurred him to record The Beach Boys’ epic “Pet Sounds,” which the Beatles loved — and used as an impetus to record “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” (Ringo Starr, in an interview with Dylan, confirms the across-the-pond respect.)
Dylan interviews musicians who befriended the Laurel Canyon musicians, such as John Sebastian, Eric Clapton and Jackson Browne. Perhaps the most poignant interview is with the late Tom Petty, who talks about being a scrawny kid who left Gainesville, Fla., for Los Angeles just to follow in those musicians’ footsteps.
Slater mixes in enough of the original music, through clips from “American Bandstand” and “The Ed Sullivan Show,” to make the nostalgia trip worthwhile. The problem with “Echo in the Canyon” is that it never shows us any reason why Jakob Dylan’s presence shouldn’t be considered a legacy hire.
‘Echo in the Canyon’
Opened May 24 in select cities; opens Friday, June 28, at the Broadway Centre Cinemas (Salt Lake City). Rated PG-13 for drug references and some suggestive content. Running time: 82 minutes.