In late July, Lucas Hoge released his debut full-length album, Dirty South. The record takes its title from Hoge's current single from the project, but more than that, the artist says, it reflects the overarching "Southern theme" running throughout the record.

"When I listen to a record, I want it to feel like I'm listening to the radio ... I like it to kind of have an ebb and flow," Hoge tells The Boot. "[But] you want people to think of it as a book, too ... I wanted them all to kind of meld together as well."

It's easier to spot the Southern threads in some of Dirty South's tracks than in others: "Halabamalujah," for example, is a Sam Hunt / Shane McAnally / Josh Osborne-penned song with a swampy groove, a nod to the University of Alabama's "roll tide" rallying cry and lyrics such as "Hot damn, they grow 'em different down here / I didn't even know I was lost / But now I'm found here." It received some airplay on satellite radio in 2015.

There's also "Power of Garth," an ode to the man Hoge credits with "open[ing] me up to so many different realms of what country music can do." When playing the song live, Hoge will move seamlessly from "Power of Garth" into Brooks' own "Much Too Young (to Feel This Damn Old);" he'll also play "Papa Loved Mama" or another uptempo Brooks tune later in his set.

"["Much Too Young"] has that really cool guitar-picking pattern in there," Hoge reflects. "It's just one of those haunting, encapsulating melodies that you love to play, love to listen to."

But outside of songs about the Cotton State and one of Oklahoma's most famous sons, Dirty South includes some subtler nods to life below the Mason-Dixon Line. Its closing track, "Who's Gonna Be There," was inspired by the death of one of Hoge's good friends shortly after high school graduation. At the funeral service, Hoge noticed how people had come from all over to attend.

"We just didn't lose people like that where I was from," Hoge says (he's from Hubbell, Neb.). "[I remember thinking that] if I lived my life half has good as my buddy did ... I'd be doing something right."

All of the songs on Dirty South had been tested live prior to the album's release, so Hoge knew they would resonate with fans: "I want to see if it's going to react to the people out there listening," he explains of his reasons for playing unreleased music in concert, "and if it doesn't, we put it on the back shelf." It's a method that works, clearly: Dirty South debuted at the top of the Top Country Album Sales chart, and at No. 5 on the Country Albums chart, when Hoge released the project.

Dirty South is available for purchase, download and streaming via iTunes, Amazon and more.

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