Following the success of previous bands, Railroad Jerk and White Hassle, Marcellus Hall set out to make a new sound. With with an acoustic guitar and harmonica, Hall holed up in his NYC apartment and crafted the songs that would make up his debut solo effort, “The First Line.” The album unveils a softer side for Hall while retaining the acute wordplay that characterizes his best work. The songs combine sardonic wit, a melancholic wistfulness, and a “now” sensibility to create what will sure to be one of this year’s best albums. Don’t be surprised to find a spate of independent films sporting tracks from this gem in coming years. With a nod toward American folk and country traditions, the music does not fall into any alt-country or singer-songwriter ghettos. Instead, Hall references texting, emailing, and the very act of songwriting itself (the title track) in his lyrics.

With help from bassists Damon Smith (Hall’s right hand man since 2005) and Michael Duclos (Joan Baez, etc.), and drummers Jimmy Ansourian (20 Miles) and Phil Puleo (Cop Shoot Cop); “The First Line” includes arrangements both lush and sparse. The title track incorporates an irresistible cello line played by Jane Scarpantoni of Lou Reed’s band. Other songs, such as the standout “Laughing With You” (which Hall debuted during his opening dates with Modest Mouse in 2005 – fans may recall Isaac Brock’s famous tattooed homage to Hall’s song “Life is Still Sweet”) and the devastating “One Drop of Rain,” get by with little or no ornament. The wrenching, waltz-tempoed “Don’t Go,” with the line “I wanna know who ate all the cashews,” features pedal steel player Gordon Hartin of the Shooter Jennings band (son of Waylon). Matt Martin (Kate Diamond, Chevy Heston) plays on “Broken Phone.” Matt Whyte of Earl Greyhound contributes piano on “When You Can” and Malachi Delorenzo of Langhorne Slim shares duties with Matt Boynton and co-producer Settly Smith as recording engineer.”The Hostages’ current line-up includes Damon Smith on bass, Matt Martin on keyboards, and Mike Shapiro on drums.

Simultaneously Hall pursues a career as an illustrator, racking up a list of clients that includes The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The New York Times. He has also begun illustrating children’s books. A 44-page book of Hall’s art accompanies the new LP on Glacial Pace Recordings.

“CORRECTION: On the album “The First Line” Damon Smith also played bass on track 4 (“Laughing With You”). Gianluca Zanin also played violin on track 12 (“Wishing My Heart Was Stone”). And thanks to Tigers & Monkeys for inspiration.”