The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You

American Recordings

Here’s how genre-defying Americana punks The Avett Brothers play: Hammer away at the banjo and guitar. Stomp the hell out of a kick drum and crescendo into screaming. Then within minutes play a disarmingly honest ballad about family love or loss. Make people cry.

The North Carolina outfit has been making records like this since 2000 but I and Love and You (produced by Rick Rubin) is the band’s first major-label offering and possibly its best album yet. Rubin’s given the Avetts more polish yet the songs still emanate wisdom and playfulness — even the pop ones. The vulnerability of the anthemic piano-ballad title track (about “three words that became hard to say”) sets the tone for the ballads and guitar-and-banjo celebrations that follow.

You could try to label the songs any number of ways — folk rock country punk bluegrass pop whatever — but really I and Love and You is all heart.