Barclay Martin, who works part-time at the Hi-Hat, says music is "a hobby." It's one worth encouraging. Credited only to the last names of its musicians, Potato Moon (so far available at the coffee shop and at the Borders at 91st and Metcalf) hints at its Sunday-morning bluegrass with one song title ("Homegrown Lullabye") but is otherwise coy about its genre. The tastefully minimalist cover is more Windham Hill than O, Brother Where Art Thou?, but from the confidently "Dueling Banjos" count-off that opens the disc to the chugging group composition "She Told Me," the quartet's Moon is potent 'shine, not cheese. Martin's hobbyist guitar playing is no less assured than the accomplished work of bassist and fiddler Carol Brown, mandolin picker Andy Weber and mulitinstumentalist Ben Stancil. Martin and Stancil also sing, and their frequently harmonized tenors are capable of both enviable jubilation and convincing ache.
Kansas City native Martin and Stancil, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, met in Liverpool, England, in 1998 on a study-abroad program when both were juniors at Holland, Michigan's Hope College. It's the kind of coincidental back story most bands would kill for (or Tenacious D would pour into its smelter with a book of dirty Mad Libs to get a theme song). Stancil spent last August and September recording the disc in Kansas City with Martin, Brown and Weber. The songs, polished but seemingly spontaneous, were worth the trip. Stancil and Brown's "Let's Ride" is Nick Drake pulling into Union Station (the group, not the home of Science City), and the after-the-harvest-dance romance "Homegrown Lullabye" is the best Allison Krauss song Krauss never sang. Potato Moon isn't just charming; it's luminous.