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A Chanukah Gift to Us All

By Chaya Sara Schlussel

This Yom Tov, we've got an extra reason to celebrate. As we light up our homes with dancing flames, we'll also get to light up our hearts with music worth dancing to! It's a special Chanukah gift to us all, from the gifted Eli Gerstner. Once again, this beloved and acclaimed composer/producer has created a work of musical artistry, blending the vibrant voices of his Yeshiva Boys Choir into a pure, unprecedented masterpiece. This latest CD is not just a collection of Chanukah tunes. It's YBC 5 - hitting the stands in time for Chanukah. Featuring a perfect mix of all-new, all-original, as well as all-time-favorite tracks, this album is guaranteed to leave its listeners breathless.

YBC 5 is reinventing the Yom Tov CD. When people see a new Yom Tov or Shabbos CD on the market, they tend to assume it's just a 'filler album.' They think it's just a compilation of pre-existing songs, or a miscellany of new pieces put together as an afterthought, without measuring up to the time, effort, or monetary investment of a 'real' CD. That may be true of some albums, but anyone who knows Eli Gerstner can attest to the fact that nothing he does is mundane, middling or mediocre. Eli and the Yeshiva Boys continually set new standards in the JM industry, always pushing the envelope and raising the bar. The word 'filler' isn't listed in his personal performance dictionary. And YBC 5 is no exception. There are eleven outstanding selections on the CD, and every one is worthy of a standing ovation. Every track bar none was a labor of love for Eli, for at-the-helm choir leader Yossi Newman, and for their select group of budding young stars. Nine of the songs are brand new hits that will have fans alternately exploding from their seats in excitement, and shedding tender tears of emotion. And the other two (bonus tracks if you will) are medleys that are stand-alone stunners in their own right. No question about it: YBC 5 will pluck at your heartstrings with every chord.

There are so many runaway hits on this album. One especially dynamic and dynamite track is the song that fires up the CD right from the beginning: "Mizmor Shir Chanukas Habayis." If you tapped into the rhythm of previous YBC hits like "Kol Hamispallel," "V'ahavta" and "Shabechi," then this rendition is really going to give you an adrenaline rush. "Mizmor Shir" is an even happier, even more energetic version of those fan-favorites you most enjoy. It's everything you love about YBC, wrapped up in a faster, feistier tempo.

The first time Eli Gerstner debuted an English song for the YBC, was on YBC 3. Until then, Eli felt that in English everything had already been said and done. Unless he could introduce a truly original concept, he preferred to write beautiful compositions to heartfelt pesukim in Tefillah and Tehillim. With the then-recent tragedy of Gush Katif, Eli finally felt he had the perfect English concept. So on a YBC 3 track called "In a Song," Eli touchingly referred to the calamity that had befallen our nation in Israel. The song became very popular, and is still requested frequently at choir performances. Since that time, everyone's been repeatedly asking for another English song. And now, with YBC 5, Eli accedes to us with not one, but two! awesome renditions that are equally powerful, but very different from one another. "Daddy Come Home" will make listeners weepy-eyed and trembling. "Those Were the Nights" will make them double over with laughter.

Eli didn't hesitate when it came to English lyrics. As a Jewish music connoisseur, he knew to head straight toward the man who is, hands-down, the 'best in the business.' Nobody writes them like Country Yossi. English songs come and go, but how many of them have the emotional impact of, say, "Deaf Man in the Shteeble?" How many of them have entertained and amused two generations, like the unforgettable "Beep Beep?" Yossi Toiv doesn't just put words to paper. He puts heart and soul into every line. That's why, when "Daddy Come Home" made history at the YBC concert on Chol Hamoed Sukkos, the crowd was profoundly moved.

Eli, Yossi and their troupe have performed for many years, in many places. Over the course of his musical career, Eli has developed a special feel - an awareness - for his audience. He can instinctively sense whether or not they're 'into' a song. At the Chol Hamoed concert, when this inspirational track was staged, the crowd went wild. Everyone stood up unanimously, in tribute to the awesome symmetry of stirring composition and poignant lyrics. Eli had planned to perform another song after "Daddy Come Home," but upon seeing the reaction in the theater, he knew he couldn't top it. He stopped there. After every show, Gerstner gets many emails from his fans, voicing various compliments (& complaints). But after that concert, every one of his emails conveyed incomparable praise for "Daddy Come Home". Heart-wrenchingly sung by Yaakov Mordechai Gerstner on the album, if for no other reason, it is worth purchasing YBC 5 just to hear this single musical phenomenon.

The second English song on the album is a humorous look at Chanukahs past, called "Those Were the Nights." This is straight-up, flat-out Country Yossi, doing what he does best. It takes a hysterical look at those eight dreidel-spinning, latke-gorging, gelt-giving nights of our youth. The boys loved performing it in the studio. They couldn't keep still while singing it though, and had to do many retakes before they managed to stifle their laughter.

There's a great new "Yevanim" song on the CD. Eli wrote this composition years ago, and was just waiting for the right platform upon which to properly display it. For this track, Eli went to the same guy who does all of their YBC Live remixes with techno music: Shai Barak. Usually, Eli takes an existing track and gives it to Shai to remix with new instruments, and a cooler, funkier style. On their YBC Live DVD, Eli and Co. make a full production music video of those remixes that everybody loves. So this time, Gerstner decided to hand the song to Shai originally, and have him work his magic with it right from the start. And wow, is it magical! Although Eli preferred to start off the CD with a song that could be sung all year round; one that did not specifically associate with Chanukah, "Yevanim" is so incredible and intense that Eli seriously considered putting it first. You've gotta hear it to believe it!

"Maoz Tzur" is a slow ballad that Eli wrote along with the multi-talented Dovid Nachman from The Chevra. They've written many songs together previously, including the ever-popular "Shema Koleinu." But Eli insists that "Maoz Tzur" is far and away the prettiest piece they've ever collaborated on. It was finished years ago, and Eli's been itching to put it onto a CD ever since, but it had to be the right CD to showcase such a remarkable rendition. YBC 5 puts "Maoz Tzur" in the candle-lit limelight.

Many people are asking whether or not YBC will take center stage this Chanukah. The answer is yes - only not in Brooklyn. Their concert will be held in Toronto, and hailed as the biggest JM show to headline in Canada. The group completed an astonishing 8 shows this past Sukkos in the tri-state area, at which more than 10,000 people attended. Concerts were staged in Far Rockaway, Queens, Monsey, Brooklyn, etc. and every one was a stellar success. So for now, they're giving fans in faraway places a chance to enjoy the one-of-a-kind music that had made YBC a household name. But they'll iy'H be back in time for Pesach with YBC Live 4, during which they'll record their wildly popular, blockbuster DVD. You can expect seats in Queens College to sell out well in advance, so don't be left out of that surefire show!

I can't help but trumpet and toot the horn about Yeshiva Boys Choir Vol. 5. It's not just a CD, it's an upbeat, uplifting experience. With classics of the past and classics for the future, the album will leave its enduring imprint on your memory, and its enduring impact on your heart. This Chanukah, don't just watch the flames dance in your home - get up and dance along with them, to the music of YBC 5.

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