KING DJANGO Roots Tonic (Stubborn Records) New Yorker Jeff "King Django" Baker has been a prominent figure on the East Coast reggae-ska scene for longer than the scene has existed. He served as a key element in the line-up of seminal Eighties groups The Boilers and Murphy's Law before fronting the bands Skinnerbox and the Stubborn All-Stars. He even toured with California punk band Rancid as a trombonist. Today, King Django is involved in the reggae-ska scene on a number of levels: as a songwriter, a ragamuffin vocalist, a hired trombonist and as the owner and manager of Version City Studios and Stubborn Records. On Django's solo 1998 album Roots and Culture, the artist explored his Jewish identity with songs about his love of Shabbat, a track called "Ska Mitzva" and a presentation of Maimonides' 13 Principles of Faith on the back cover. Django has remained incredibly busy ever since, touring Japan and the US last year before headlining a 27-date European excursion this past spring. He recently released Roots Tonic, a disc that incorporates sounds including classic ska, reggae, dancehall and klezmer - all of which are presented with head-bopping island "riddims" provided by flavorful backing ensemble the Version City Rockers. The disc opens with "It's All Over," a straight roots reggae tune. "Too Many Things" sounds like West Coast punk-ska, but with the addition of jazzy horns. On "No Trial," a collaboration with vocalist Rocker T, the beats keep changing, showing off Django's complex remixing skills. "Zion Gates" feels like an underwater niggun, while the closing "Wayfarers Prayer" features a dense, folky production replete with Caribbean hand percussion. ARI B Rosh Ashmurot (Sameach Music) Ari Boiangiu is one of the lead guitarists regularly used by New York's Neshoma Orchestra wedding band. On his solo debut, he has helpfully decided to untie our tongues by adopting the moniker Ari B. Released in coordination with his summer tour of yeshivot and seminaries in Israel, the album spotlights B's amazing guitar skills, though it also demonstrates that songwriting is not his main strength. This guy can really thrash it - something B proves on Rosh Ashmurot in the traditional manner, using electric guitar wail-picking as the background to simple songs and as a springboard for plenty of super-fast, flashy solos. On "Ma Gadlu" ("What Grew") and "Mizmor L'Todah" ("Hymn of Thanks"), B uses the technique to excess, preventing the listener from settling into a groove. "Home for Shabbos" has a relaxed jazzy acoustic intro, by contrast, even though it leads us into "Al Naharos Bavel" ("On Streams of Babylon") a progressive rock tune that soon descends into hair-metal clich . "Ashrecha" and "Ana Hashem" are cheesy ballads, while the up-tempo "Layehudim" benefits from a decent melody and a great cowbell-accented beat. With its Piamenta-style key changes and driving rhythm, "Kumi Roni" is the standout highlight of the disc. Ben Jacobson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.