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MUSIC REVIEW

A folk legend gets his due, from some old friends

Club Passim Tribute Concert for Robert L. Jones.
At: Sanders Theatre, Friday

CAMBRIDGE -- As Newport Folk Festival producer Robert L. Jones was presented a Living Legends Award from Club Passim, he said he'd simply spent his life trying to create ''a little organized decency."

That may explain why Jones, who appeared in a wheelchair while recovering from Guillain-Barre syndrome, has managed to remain among folk music's most powerful, and yet best-liked, figures for nearly 50 years.

Alison Krauss closed a glorious five-hour musical toast to Jones at Sanders Theatre on Friday with a whispered hymn, sung to him with her thanks for ''getting my career started" at age 15, when she made her Newport debut.

Krauss is now among the most imitated stars in bluegrass, and her airy, exquisitely controlled vocals showed why. Her band Union Station dazzled with crisp invention, while Jerry Douglas echoed Krauss's emotions with grippingly vocal dobro licks.

The evening was amiably hosted by Nashville uber-producer Jim Rooney, who, like Jones, cut his teeth in the '60s Cambridge folk scene.

Richard Thompson's melodies sprouted from British tradition, but blossomed into something hypnotically modern, wiry, and storm-dark. His lead solos flexed with complex passions, coaxed by Danny Thompson's brilliant, cloud-burst bass lines.

Dar Williams delivered a deliciously personal musical memoir, alternating comically self-effacing coming-of-age ballads with intimate landscapes that turned our worst self-fears into the stuff of redemption.

Geoff Muldaur was arguably the finest white blues singer to emerge from the '60s folk revival, and he has never sounded better. His silk-and-sinew tenor took its own sweet time, swaying where less confident singers strut; his aching falsetto sustains could melt ice on a cold day.

The neo-primitivist band Ollabelle displayed a seductive flair for reinventing traditional music without finding anything that was not already in there, gurgling beneath the surface.

Old School Freight Train may be the Next Big Thing in bluegrass. The Virginia quartet's light-fingered picking was immaculate, innovative, and keenly intelligent.

Playing later behind the jazzy strides of David Grisman's once-revolutionary mandolin, however, their sound felt suddenly classic and, well, traditional. But then, to them, Grisman is now the elder, the filter through which they first glimpsed the storied past and sure future of American folk music. And so, thanks to the organized decency of activists like Jones, the big, old river keeps rolling along.

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