The Avett Brothers 

I and Love and You

North Carolina's Avett Brothers approach their major-label debut with a heady adventurousness, perhaps trying to bottle their excellent and frenetic live show while sticking close to the themes that have driven the band for a decade. Working with famed producer Rick Rubin, the band reaches for a bigger and often rowdier sound — including plenty of piano and a rock 'n' roll backbeat with more drums than ever — leaving their rootsy bluegrass as an accent that colors in the edges.

While that might sound as if the Avetts are working against their strengths, the real revelation of I and Love and You is that the band is versatile and talented enough to pull it off with the same passion and straightforward tenderness that made Emotionalism one of 2007's best albums. Their songwriting blossoms from its core honesty into songs about friendship, family, love, challenges, doubt, and striving for the right things in life. The opening title song is a gradually swelling cello and piano ballad that highlights both the ache and the buzzing excitement of starting over. "Laundry Room," the album's next most memorable song, layers piano and strings on a bed of guitar and banjo picking, and the Avetts' superb harmony vocals, buoyant enough to dig hope out of heartbreak: Tonight I'll burn the lyrics, 'cause every chorus was your name.

In expanding their sound, the Avetts have crafted an album of abundant thrills, and while not quite a masterpiece, I and Love and You continues the band's long ascendancy. (American Recordings)

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