Dirty South is as much a reflection of a lifestyle as it is the name of Lucas Hoge's latest album. Calling Nashville home since 2010, Hoge feels like he's been adopted by the south, and vice versa. Each of his album's 10 tracks are a reflection of this bond, whether it's obvious titles like "Shoe Fly Pie" and "Halabamalujah," or others that delve deeper into his connection with the region.

"I just love everything about it down here. I just love the people and everything and I just wanted to write that fun song that everybody could relate to and I think "Dirty South" kind of encompasses that," Hoge tells Taste of Country of the title track.

Hoge grew up in the tiny town of Hubbell, Neb., and he was the youngest of four kids, so he wasn't in control when it came to what music he and his siblings would listen to. But when Garth Brooks' groundbreaking No Fences was released in 1990, it became the first CD Hoge ever owned — and it changed the way he viewed country music.

"It just opened my mind up to so many more aspects of country music and being able to do so much more with the country platform," he says of the memory. "He's inspired me from a very young age and I just love that he's a humbly guy. He's the real deal, I enjoy following people like that."

So when Hoge was pitched a song titled "The Power of Garth (co-written by Terry McBride and Matt Rogers) that fittingly tells the story of how his music leaves a resounding impact on a lifelong fan, he knew it was meant for him. "They knew how much of a Garth Brooks fan I was, so as soon as I heard it I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I have to have this song,'" he says. 

Brooks also indirectly influenced Hoge to get into songwriting — he discovered the work of acclaimed songwriters Skip Ewing, Paul Overstreet and Billy Dean and was inspired to "dissect" how they crafted such impactful songs of their own, as well as hits like "Forever and Ever Amen," "When You Say Nothing at All" and "Someone Else's Star."

But Hoge has some heavy-hitting songwriters featured on his own project, with Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne co-writing the swampy "Halabamalujah," which came after Hoge approached an industry executive about getting access to stronger cuts. "He literally gets out of his chair and pulls off a CD from the top shelf of his bookcase and plays that song. I was like 'dude, that's what I'm talking about, I need that,'" Hoge says, laughing.

And the burgeoning singer gets to showcase his own songwriting ability on the powerful "Who's Gonna Be There," a song inspired by the death of a close friend in high school. The singer paints a picture of a church packed beyond capacity, with people from neighboring towns coming in overwhelming numbers to pay their respects. "Growing up in small towns like that, when you lose somebody, it's like losing a family member, it's just so sad," Hoge reminisces. "I was sitting there thinking 'if I live my life half as good as my buddy did to have all these people come and tell him goodbye then I'd be doing something right.' I just had to write a song in tribute to him and I'm so happy that it's finally on a project."

All of these inspirations and experiences are are poured into Dirty South, which the singer calls his most impressive yet. "This is by far the best material I've written, I've had and I'm able to put on a project," he says. "This album has propelled me closer to that glass ceiling than I've ever been."

Dirty South is available now.

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