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Taproot’s got a surprisingly upbeat album

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TAPROOT; "Gift" (Atlantic). ***

You gotta love Taproot. At least you have to respect the band that dogged Limp Bizkit lead vocalist and Interscope Records vice president Fred Durst.

Durst courted the band for weeks, trying to get it signed with Interscope. He thought it was a done deal, but Taproot signed with Atlantic.

That move gave the Michigan-based band at least a half-star rating in and of itself. The other two-and-a-half stars come from its music.

Gritty, fierce and candid lyrics nearly put the band into the listener's hands.

Don't let the moaning, screaming, shouting and whining in lead singer Stephen Richards' paranoia-inducing vocals deceive you.

"Smile," "Again & Again" and "Emotional Times" begin this rollercoaster ride. But instead of doom and gloom, the band's viewpoint is, amazingly, upbeat — at least to the point where Richards is calling on fans to take responsibility for themselves instead of blaming other people for their problems.

The crunchy guitars and crisp, sometimes neck-whipping drums are pretty much in the mode of the hard music that's out these days, and we're not talking about the posing Kid Rock.

Taproot's style lies somewhere between Pantera and Nine Inch Nails. Really.

E-MAIL: scott@desnews.com