There’s few things that go better together than heartbreak and country music. It’s a tale as old as time, and even as the genre itself evolves, the inspiration behind the lyrics and stories is often the same. George Strait is often referred to as the “King of Country Music,” and became known for his storytelling and way of conveying heartache through his music. Many artists have come and gone since, and now in the present there’s one artist who calls back to Strait with that same level of storytelling and becoming known for heartbreak music: Ernest.

He kicked off his career, like many others in Nashville, as a songwriter and penned songs for the likes of Florida Georgia Line, Chris Lane, Morgan Wallen, and more. He began releasing his own music in 2017, ultimately releasing his debut album, Locals Only, in 2019 via Big Loud. It wasn’t until last year, though, when Ernest got his well-deserved big break on country radio as a solo artist, when he released “Flower Shops” — a duet with Wallen.

It was the title-track to his second studio album, which came out in March and further established Ernest as a force to be reckoned with on his own accord. The album told stories of trails and tribulations that everyone has been able to relate to at one point or another, and less than one year later, he’s back with the deluxe edition of Flower Shops to put a little bow on the era.

Appropriately titled Flower Shops (The Album): Two Dozen Roses, due to having 24 tracks, Ernest took some time to chat with me in late-January about the album (out now via Big Loud) and how it all came together.

The plan for Two Dozen Roses is one that came together organically, although it was not originally planned to happen. “After I was done writing for Flower Shops, I just kind of kept writing in that head space. Just kept living in that world,” Ernest says. Although he’s not sure he has necessarily gotten out of that songwriting headspace, there had to be a cutoff at some point. At the end of the day, he didn’t want to put out a deluxe edition that had just two new songs or so, but he didn’t want to go over 24 so he could stick to the two dozen roses bit. “Instead of dropping a brand new album — it was kind of my way of compromising. It was like 13 new songs, like if we’re going to make a deluxe let’s make it a part two, like an A side and B side.”

While there is a little bit of everything on this deluxe edition, most fans of Ernest will recognize the style and appreciate that he’s not straying too far out of this corner of country music he’s in and frankly dominating arguably better than anyone else. “I think it’s funny because for my fans that have followed me from before I was really making country country music, I think it’s cool that I’ve landed in this. I’m very comfortable making the music I’m making now,” he says. “Being from Nashville and growing up on traditional country music as well as everything else, I just figured if I’m going to make country music, I’m going to make country music. It ain’t going to be redneck music, but it’s songwriting and storytelling and putting feelings into words the best I can, is basically my cheat code to get to work with my heroes.”

Working with some of his country music heroes appears to be one of the most rewarding things for Ernest. We talk a bit about some of his collaborations, and when I ask him if he’s ever had a moment where someone wants to work with him and he’s a little stunned by it, he’s quick to respond. “I would say the most recent being Brian Kelley [of Florida Georgia Line] brought me in on a write with him and Dean Dillon,” he begins. “I took that and we wrote a few songs that day and one of them ‘What Have I Got to Lose’ is on the album. I just took a shot in the dark and asked if he wanted to be on it, and he said he was honored to.”

Two Dozen Roses kicks off with an almost criminal run of songs in “This Fire,” “Wild Wild West,” and “Hill,” all of which really almost sound like throwback songs to the late 90’s/early-00’s stylistically. It’s this aforementioned corner of country music where Ernest excels and where he’s happy to be. “It’s nostalgic. I think that for the amount of sad songs I make, my life is pretty good right now. But, all of these songs have been true at one point or another for me, and I think there’s a little bit for everybody whether you’re in the honeymoon phase of the relationship or things are on coals,” he shares with me. “I think country music is headed back in the direction where it’s truth telling and I like being on that side of it.”

There does seem to be a resurgence in this style of country music, at a time where nostalgia is nearly at an all-time high across all genres and walks of life. Ernest has capitalized on that, but it’s not disingenuous — it’s a style of music he loves and the stories are real. And while there’s a lot of heartbreak across the 24 tracks on Two Dozen Roses, there’s room for other stories that Ernest wants to share. The aforementioned “Hill” and “Drunk With My Friends,” which is a collection of true stories from Ernest. “What guy with a girl has at one point not approached her with ‘Uh, hey babe, I think I’m going to go golfing.’ You’re walking on egg shells with that,” he says with a laugh about the song.

All throughout though, while Two Dozen Roses isn’t necessarily a concept album or one linear story, Ernest has laid out the track-listing and structure of the album to really somewhat still tell a story. Specifically with the deluxe edition part, kicking off with “This Fire” and going through a rollercoaster of a ride emotionally, before ending with “That Girl,” a somewhat optimistic song that eventually everything will wind up okay in the end. “I really did live with the songs trying to figure out how I wanted people to listen when they flipped that disc over. I think ‘This Fire’ paints a perfect skeleton for the rest of it, where it’s like ‘Alright what happened to this guy? Go back and listen to ‘This Fire’ and the rest all falls under that,” he says. “It kind of sounds like a playlist. Like a 90’s or 80’s playlist.”

Across the album, you’ll hear Ernest play a little bit with what exactly a heartbreak song is supposed to sound like. This was a conscious decision, as you may expect, to avoid sounding like one long, drawn out singular song that you can’t tell when it ends and when it begins. Of course, you do have songs like the title-track that is a traditional sounding heartbreak song, coinciding with a duet to top it off, but then you’ve got really 23 other songs to dive into.  “For a heartbreak song it’s just a slow song lends itself to a hearbreak song. I think we pushed that though on this album,” he says before pointing out one song in particular that they had some fun with. “‘Heartache In My 100 Proof’ is a heartbreak song, but that’s going to be fun to listen to in a honky tonk.”

All in all, as he thinks back across the writing process for Two Dozen Roses, which was really nearly more accidental than intentional, he’s happy with the result. One such story Ernest shares regarding the making of the album revolves around “Miss That Girl.”

“I was taking Brad Clawson and Jacob Durrett out on the road to write with me. And when we left at like 8:30/9 in the morning, heading down the freeway on the bus. We’re just hanging, catching up. I pick up a guitar with no intention of writing a song, we were just going to hang out and write that night. But I picked up a guitar and started playing ‘Miss That Girl’ and kind of just spit out that chorus. We wrote that song within 45 minutes of leaving Nashville, and we also wrote ‘Unhang the Moon’ that same weekend. We wrote ‘Miss That Girl,’ didn’t write another song for two days, then wrote ‘Unhang the Moon’ before we left,” he says laughing. “So that was a successful little weekend.”

No matter how the songs came to be, whether unintentionally on a bus like “Miss That Girl” or intentionally later on during that same trip with “Unhang the Moon,” each song on the deluxe edition and Flower Shops as a whole tell a story. There’s no filler or throwaway tracks that are there just to stretch it to 24, and we almost had more if Ernest didn’t stick to wanting to make it two dozen roses. The songs are authentic, they’re nostalgic in ways, and yes they’re heartbreaking perhaps more often than not, but they’re never boring.

Essentially two albums in about an 11 month time span, Ernest tells me, he’s just excited to let Flower Shops live and isn’t going to rush into writing for the next project. After all, he just wrapped up a headlining tour late last year and has a packed touring schedule for this summer. “I don’t know what the music will sound like,” he begins, “but we’ll see what next story I need to tell.”

No matter what story Ernest decides to tell next, and what it may sound like, you know that he’s going to do it honestly and with sincerity. He doesn’t know any other way, and after all, would you expect anything less from a man conquering this nostalgia/throwback corner of the country world?