A&E Review

ERNEST Begins His Sophomore Campaign With Second Album “NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE” 

ERNEST’s “NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE” Album cover courtesy of Genius.

From a critically acclaimed debut album, “FLOWER SHOPS,” to writing songs for some of country music’s biggest stars like Morgan Wallen and Thomas Rhett, Nashville-native ERNEST has already formed a solid resume leading up to the release of his sophomore album, “NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE.”

The 26-song album has a run time of just under an hour and a half, and includes an interlude of the artist’s young son singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” at a concert and a country cover of John Mayer’s “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room.”

The album is an easy listen, and it oozes with high-quality production and moves along with a beautiful flow. However, as much as I enjoyed this project, it’s obvious that there are still some growing pains ERNEST has yet to overcome.

He’s 32 years old in the real world, but in the country music community, he’s the equivalent of a teenager. “NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE” dives into the experiences of ERNEST and his life as a self-proclaimed redneck in the Volunteer State, but I found a handful of tracks to come off far too “Morgan Wallen-y.” 

It caused me to raise the question of if ERNEST will be able to break free from the artist a lot of people see as his older brother in the music business. “Flower Shops” and “Cowgirls” — the two most listened to songs in ERNEST’s discography — are both songs with Wallen on them. Both his lyrics and the vibe of “Did It For The Story” and “Small Town Goes” made me do a double take to make sure I hadn’t accidentally switched off his album and had started playing something of Wallen’s.

As much as the similarities to Wallen concerned me, I think “NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE” proved ERNEST has a trademark sound that he needs to tap into more. The power trio of “How’d We Get Here,” “Smokin’ Gun” and “Dollar To Cash” give the project a much-needed boost, and showcase ERNEST’s ability to mix a modern country style with a honky-tonk aura.

These three tracks are the trifecta of the album and escape from the mainstream country sound to provide listeners with more of a honky-tonk vibe. By the time I made it to “Smokin’ Gun,” which sat at around the halfway mark of the album, I knew this would be the perfect summer music for a day out on the lake or an evening sitting around a fire.

ERNEST threw us into a deep country saloon with certain songs, while also perching us on the back of his pickup during a sunset with some slower songs. “Would If I Could” and “Small Town Goes” are the somber breaks this long album needed in between various honky-tonk tunes.

Part of what comes with a 26-song project that has a run time of nearly 90 minutes is repetition. Morgan Wallen’s “One Thing At A Time” was a whopping 36 songs, and despite him being the hottest star in country, even that was too much music for one sitting.

I think ERNEST could have done without four or five of the songs, and they were all toward the end. I haven’t decided if the conclusion of the album was unimpressive to me because I had already been listening for over an hour, or if those songs were just not all that special. 

Regardless, being able to produce around 20 amazing songs and a variety of other ones that I’d label as “serviceable” is an impressive feat. Those growing pains I mentioned earlier are because I’m curious to see how ERNEST continues to handle common struggles that come with a genre like country music.

We’ve already covered how ERNEST needs to escape Wallen’s shadow, but another aspect of his music that this album exposed was the evolution of his lyricism. ERNEST was a songwriter first, but even a master of the craft can fall victim to the trap that country music sets some artists up for.

He often reverted back to lines about drinking whiskey sours, riding around in the red dust of rural Nashville, or falling for a blue-eyed blonde that breaks his heart. I don’t want this to take away from the fact that “Kiss Of Death,” “Smokin’ Gun” and “Honkytonk Fairytale” all exemplify ERNEST’s lyrical genius. 

Just like rappers can’t escape the cliche lyrics about guns, cars and crime, ERNST finds it hard to resist a few lines about Jim Beam and his Chevy. Outside of a few country truisms, I think ERNEST knocked the lyricism out of the park.

For this massive of a project, and coming off the heels of a highly praised debut album, ERNEST conquered the beast that his sophomore album posed to be. The few critiques I had could be seen as nit-picking because ultimately “NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE” does just about everything right.

We’re a third of the way through 2024 and ERNEST is the clear pick for best country album so far. He set the tone for the rest of country music as we head into the summer months, and I’m already salivating for whatever he has in store for us in the future.