Taproot Proves Experience Prevails over Constraint

Album Info

Artist: Taproot
Album: Our Long Road Home
MYnstrel Genre: Hard Rock & Heavy Metal
Album Release Date: 09.16.2008
Band Members:
Stephen Richards – Vocals, Guitar
Mike DeWolf – Guitar
Phil Lipscomb – Bass
Jarrod Montague – Drums (On this record)
Nick Fredell – Drums (Touring for this album)
MySpace Homepage:
Noteworthy Video:

Spotlight Summary

We were incredibly stoked to hear about Taproot’s new album! The three year wait since their thought-provoking album Blue Sky Research proved worthwhile; the band provides explosive, melodic, mind-bending grooves on their new album, Our Long Road Home. The songs reach into your heart and evoke images of hopeful struggles that result from separation from the things we love. Taproot perfected the end of the album, resolving these emotions with acknowledgment of where resolution might be found:

“The footprints that I left were meant to lead me back to home”

Throughout the album Taproot captivates listeners with impactful songs covering new and adventurous applications of musicianship. One of Taproot’s gifts remains their accessible eloquence. Their lyrics are meaningful and comparable to situations everyone faces in their lives at one point or another. For example, we feel that Taproot’s ability to confess the strength of relationships in “Wherever I Stand” demonstrates their maturity through life experiences. Our Long Road Home chronicles life experiences that everyone can appreciate.

As for the ode-to-rock that is larger than life, this album won’t let you take a breath before a wall of sound pulverizes your speakers. The opening music sets the stage for the rest of the album very well. The vocals offer a roller coaster of soft spoken passages contrasted by powerful choruses you will be singing for hours afterwards. With brilliantly orchestrated vocal harmonies and effects, uniquely ambient guitars, unconventional drum fills, and powerful lyrics, you’ve got a lot of musical goodies to take in.

Our Long Road Home is definitely worth the buy. Once you understand their ingenuity, you’ll definitely have a hard time taking these vibes off your speakers for a long time. Just as a plant’s taproot maintains strength amid adversity in nature, Taproot sustains a raw power that many bands yearn to discover.

Album Breakdown

This album is all about freedom from constraint, and providing listeners with wisdom gained through experience. Taproot emanates plenty of originality, and they also present a package that most listeners will find engaging and honest. This is one of their best qualities, and this album expresses their desire to break free from the preconceived notions people have about music and life as a whole. Their lyrics support this theme of hope and determination, which permeates this album, and listeners remain moved by Taproot’s honesty regarding the ups and downs of life.

Richards’ vocals remain complex and unique throughout this album. His use of half steps and a jazzy vibrato add to the eclectic feel of this music. Jazzy 2, 4, and 6 harmonies add depth to the interesting compositions. This is one of Taproot’s signature instrumental applications, and listeners will not be disappointed with Richards’ command of his vocal instrument.

The guitars and bass provide clear and driven riffs, always well stated and not overwhelming. The rhythms are complex in some parts, but Taproot favors the brilliant use of simple rhythms to accentuate complex themes. What’s the result? Inventive drumming and accents. Noteworthy rhythms come in the form of half time drumming, in which the drums add drama to the chorus.

Harmonies are always amazing with Taproot, and this album has some of the best. Taproot uses harmonies to create the effect of listening to a full chorus, which forms a wall of sound and fills your aural space completely! The bass, guitar, and vocals work well together in order to create depth, and not overwhelm each other. This creates distinct sounds and imaginative tracks to form a cohesive work of art.

The density and instrumentation are both expertly crafted, with plenty of musical variations to keep it interesting. A great example of this aspect is in the song “It’s Natural”, in which the verses and chorus sound distinctly different, with brilliantly executed female background vocals to add complexity.

This mix utilizes a center placement of the bass drum, with the hi-hat and snare drum prominent on all of the tracks. The lead guitar tracks are bright and very precise. The rhythm guitar and bass guitar parts sustain the rhythm and back up the other tracks well. The vocals are the most intricate of all the Taproot albums, and Richards’ voice shines through in a fascinating display of talent.

The level of musicianship is excellent. You will often find yourself either singing along or concentrating hard to not miss the awesome ambient sounds present on every track. Taproot writes every song for a purpose, and it is easy to see real experience and heart in all of their music. One of the most notable vocal expressions comes in the form of using recording tracks on top of each other, one at the normal register and the second a full octave above and sung with a falsetto.

Rather than just using clichéd pop harmonies where the different singers essentially sound the same except for the different notes they are singing, Richards really uses multiple tracks of vocals to take advantage of different voices that can sing different notes, have different inflections, come together, break away, and mix-and-match levels of softness, cleanliness, grit, or intensity in the voice itself – making a final vocal instrument that shakes the boundaries of expression.

Setting the Record Straight

Currently MYnstrel is unaware of any unfair press or slanderous reviews of this album.

Personal Connections to this Album

Spotlight Editor, Tony Abbruscato’s Personal Connections

I still remember the feelings associated with hearing “Again and Again” off of the album Gift for the first time. I was driving cross country, and I finally found a radio station that played hard rock. The first thing I noticed was the cool loop introducing the pounding drums and thrashing guitars in the opening measures of the song. Then came the amazing vocals with strategically well placed shouts and awesome harmonies.

I quickly went out and bought Gift, and soon learned what true ingenuity meant. Taproot was one of the first bands I encountered that mastered the subtle difference between 3/4 and 6/8 time and transitioned seamlessly between the two signatures. As a musician, I view that level of precision as incredibly indicative of a band’s overall command of rhythm.

Each new album brought forth more creativity and intricate rhythms. I was always blown away because these guys managed to write new and exciting stuff that sounded like nothing else out there. Their music has so many layers and unconventional techniques, from the lyrics to the counter melodies to the half step vocal changes, that I often had to listen to their albums three or four times before I could fully appreciate their artistry. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t because I didn’t love the music from the very first time I listened. This was due to the fact that their overall concepts are so deep and there are so many intricate things going on in the songs, that you don’t catch them all until you listen a few times.

Taproot has also matured in that they utilize simple musical concepts to achieve a more complicated overall effect. Their lyrics remain poignant and challenging, while their instrumentation always brings you to the edge and then pulls you back with its congruity. Taproot continues to shine and proves that doing things differently can definitely be a great thing. Here’s to one of the few bands whose music can make me blurt out a joyful “YES” every time they release a new album!

Spotlight Editor, Tommy Kurek’s Personal Connections

Taproot is just one of those bands that is close to my heart. They’re honest, they’re heart-on-sleeve, they’re uplifting, they’re releasing, they’re just real. If you read the lyrics out of context, you might say, “hey, this band can get really negative.” You would be incorrect though. While Taproot has always been courageous and unafraid, being as confrontational as their honesty would compel them to be, frequently they supplement confrontational lyrics with music in a major key (happy-sounding); a style that gives you a total feeling of “yeah, this is a tough part of life, but the music says that it’s alright and there are positive things to take from it.”

I’ve been with Taproot since they first hit the national scene – during my college years, when I was part of an underground worldwide organization that promoted rock videos. The video for the song “Again and Again” off of Gift was a popular one. I remember those days fondly – it was around the same time that Tomahawk and Mudvayne were tearing it up for the first time, and a lot of the rock-saviors of the late 90s were coming out with some of their most refined work.

At that time, the album Gift was my staple release-album. Got a rough family-spot, or significant other who is giving you trouble? Taproot was king at giving you that release for your frustrations because their expressions were so intense, so honest, so poetic, and so wise. It helped that I was a huge fan of Deftones since the early 90s and Taproot definitely gave me a similar vibe.

Years later, it seems as if Taproot has progressed with my own life. Their lyrics and styles still greatly jive with me. I’ve got melodies and rhythms from Our Long Road Home popping up in my head on a regular basis these days. The songs are fun to sing along with, and they always give me a smile. Congratulations Taproot on your excellent work of art! I hope that your band receives the renown that they deserve for this album; I am very glad that MYnstrel could be a part of that effort with this Spotlight!

Featured Tracks

Track 2: Wherever I Stand

If you have seen the music video for this track, then you know the powerful visual message that works in concert with these skilled lyrics. For example, when Richards sings “Yet again, You’re a testimony, Now and then, That a greatness occasionally can come along” he provides a testament of hope that life will present those rare opportunities for greatness, combined with a suggestion to recognize and seize those occurrences.

The introduction begins with a prominent bass drum, snare and rim click with ambient guitars. The first verse then starts two measures later with pleading vocals carrying the melody. The drummer then plays the hi-hats with well placed accents by opening the two cymbals.

The chorus then blasts away with piercing vocals and rocking guitars, and the drummer uses a well placed half time to emphasize the end of the chorus. The background vocals add great depth and emotion to the second and following choruses. The bridge then provides the consternation found in the video through a 3 measure repeating 4/4 pattern. This 3 measure pattern affects listeners by not offering the typical resolution found with even-measure patterns, a very cool effect to deepen the impact of the powerful vocal track.

The guitar sound changes throughout the song, which exemplifies the mood and supports the instrumentation very well. The song structure is straight forward, but poignant, and the depth of all the instruments provides a wall of sound. Overall, this song represents the album well and showcases the raw emotion this band portrays in their art. You can check out the video at your leisure:

Track 8: You’re Not Home Tonight

This song starts off hard with a stark contrast in the falsetto vocals and half step changes. The guitars have just enough depth to remain intricate and not overwhelm the vocals. Again, Taproot provides pervasive lyrics, especially during the chorus, when Richards sings “I didn’t mean the things I’ve said, If I could take them back again I would, But you’re not home tonight, I didn’t mean to break your heart, If I could fix it even start I would, But you’re not home to-, you’re not home tonight”. These lyrics serve as a provocative reminder that all listeners will grab on to.

The guitars drive the song in the bridge, a brilliantly executed 7/4 time signature in which the vocal shouting personifies the pain in which he realizes he has lost his love. Ambient guitars harmonize over the other instrumentation, adding the contrast necessary to get the message of pain and catastrophe across.

The timing in this song remains excellent, and the dynamics are well placed, especially in the bridge. There is a rest after the bridge with drum fills that brings the chorus back superbly. At the end of the song, the drummer starts to play a half time drum part which increases the complexity by causing the interval between beats to double, while the guitars and vocals stay the same. Overall, the effect leaves you wanting more, which the ending guitar riff provides in overwhelming ferocity.

Track 7: As One

This song provides a straight forward 4/4 time signature with one of the most hummable choruses on the entire album. The introduction and end build up and fade out to create a total musical experience. Taproot offers resolution in this song, directly in line with their deeply realized truths they express in their lyrics. This completion resounds through lyrics such as “This is our chance to love and grow, These are the truth’s I’ve come to know”, in which Richards’ voice sounds strong and confident as he shares the knowledge it took years to obtain.

The bridge has a well placed and very deliberate collaboration in which the drums play cut time in order to add the dramatic affect to build back up into the chorus. The vocal harmonies are well placed, tight, and within proper chord structure. This song demonstrates the depth of Taproot’s vocals, especially during the verses where Richards loops a falsetto track an octave above his other vocal track.

The guitars are very bright and mysterious during the intro and verses, contributing to the piercing sound desired. During the chorus, all the instrumentation sustains a wall of sound so that the vocals really punch through. Taproot uses a creative affect on the vocals and carries the notes past the downbeat while another vocal loop starts the next line on the downbeat. The overall affect creates a constant wall of vocal melody that is hard to forget.

The different sections create a great contrast which drives the interest of this song. Taproot has a great use of timing with the half time sections in the choruses and the bridge. This song is mixed brightly, but with more reserve in the choruses to add the needed driving background for the vocals.

Additional Tracks:

Once again, we hit the streets of the Washington DC community to gauge the other noteworthy tracks. These include: “Hand That Holds True”, with some of the most impressive vocals on the entire album; “Karmaway”, with a powerful message, haunting guitars, and outstanding use of dynamics; and “Footprints”, with airy vocals, driving drums, and seemingly endless fade out, which I interpreted personally as the aural expression of Taproot’s Long Road Home; what a journey it is.

Conclusion

In a time where common opinion says people should try to “stay young forever” – Taproot goes against the grain again. This is the true rebel-spirit of rock, unafraid to go against the norms. In the song, “It’s Natural”, Taproot says, “It’s natural, The fear of growing older, It’s natural, The mirror’s getting meaner, Until you realize, You’re meaningful, And that’ll last forever”. These perceptive words enhance the listening experience because of their honesty. Our Long Road Home will give you that honesty at every turn!

The level of creativity found in this album is rare in today’s musical landscape. Brilliance of this caliber should not be constrained to three minute radio sound bites, and it is evident Taproot does not desire that. If you want a rewarding, intellectual, and emotionally charged experience, check this album out; with each listen it will come closer to becoming a classic in your collection!

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