Take one look at Taproot, and you see a group of hard-rock white boys messing it up for the summer. But these four guys from Ann Arbor, MI are evolving. Their latest album, "Gift," is significant departure from the limitations of Taproot's rap-core beginnings, bringing a fuller, more melodic sound and their lyrics have slowed to an almost understandable pace. This allows some closer listening that convinces us there's something going on in the head lead singer Steve Richards.

Taproot gets at the same unaligned spiritual yearning that lifted bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana. "I've had people tell me that listening to my lyrics--understanding where I am coming from spiritually and gleaning a bit of my overall outlook on life--kind of helps them to cope," says Richards.

Steve Richards

Do the spiritual signs you talk about in your music give you specific directions?

I don't really use signs for big things. for that stuff I trust my gut, reflect on what's best for me and the people around me. or I'll use a pendulum. when there's too much emotion or passion in a question I'd be looking too hard for a sign and wonder did i miss it or misinterpret it?

What advice do you have for young people finding their spiritual path?

I'd say to believe in yourself shouldn't be hard, it should be a given. my acronym for the word SPIDER is an easy tool...spirituality, positivity, individuality, destiny, equality, and reality...and please remember: everything happens for a reason. It's up to you to find out why!

It's the kind of claim a lot of rockers make, but "Gift" makes the claim stick. On the stand out "I," the band gives a wrenching personal portrayal of someone trying to take a life full of contradictions and get it in hand: "I can't believe I lost control of my fate, I need forgiveness from the people I truly care about, I need support behind my back to help me spit it out . I hate myself sometimes, I love myself, I need this way of life because it holds me."

"Comeback" also elevates this album above boy--rock status, both musically and lyrically. The music is textured to compliment Richard's tortured siren of a voice, as he searches the universe for guidance with the shade of Walt Whitman looking over his shoulder: "I propose a toast to myself to find the time to ask my lord and galaxy to come back to me, to point me in the right direction"

It seems like someone has answered Richards's prayer. They have resolved their well-publicized battle with Fred Durst from Limp Bizkit, who had planned to release their debut album on his label. As Durst dragged his heels, Taproot did a showcase for Rick Rubin and eventually signed with Velvet Hammer/Atlantic for "Gift". This summer, Taproot has been on tour with Ozzfest.

Musically and lyrically, Taproot is grounded in the ethos of the young, alienated and seeking. If you are living in that world, you will probably like this album. If you have left that world behind, either through anesthesia or maturity, it is worth another visit.

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