Doug Kistner’s “Don’t Look Down” is the latest single from the New Jersey singer and keyboardist. Kistner has an extensive history working as a touring musician who has shared stages with a variety of acts such as John Waite, Chicago’s Danny Seraphine, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, as well as Blood Sweat and Tears. He has a pair of solo releases under his belt thus far. 2021’s “Since We Left Our Dreams” and “Only Road I Know” put everyone on notice that Kistner possessed the needed talent and gumption to stand out as a solo performer. His new single “Don’t Look Down”, however, solidifies his standing as one of the most promising AOR performers in recent memory.

He is clearly aiming for “the big time”. Every aspect of “Don’t Look Down” is polished to high gloss shine while still retaining its humanity and surprising soulfulness. The song’s production captures each detail of the song’s arrangement with sparkling clarity but there’s plenty of muscle here as well. There’s sharp-eared balance, as well, between the song’s instrumentation. The production particularly excels during the song’s second half.

The scintillating passages near the song’s conclusion are a musical highlight. The guitar work is stellar but held in check for the most part until Kistner allows the six-string to spread its wings. It’s the terse rhythm guitar, drums, and keyboards carrying the musical load and their well-oiled chemistry sustains the entire song. The crisp touch of the guitar work, the snap of the drums, and the rambunctious vamping from the keyboards are essential for making this single work.

Kistner’s vocals top everything. There is a smattering of supporting vocals at recurring points during the song, but this is for added emphasis rather than due to the lead singer’s weakness. Lively emotion fills his phrasing but never risks overkill. His engagement with the music and lyrics is total, but likewise informed by artistry he developed over the years singing and playing behind or with aforementioned icons. The confidence we hear is, as well, shaped by the response he received with his first two singles.

The lyrics never broach any new topical or linguistic ground. He avoids much hint of the poetic and prefers, instead, to be the words largely conversational. It’s part of his approach, really, to eschew anything that may even hint of pretentiousness. His passion for entertaining audiences is real and much of his success in that area is attributable to the relatable and straight-forward way he presents his work to listeners. The artifice in his work is acceptable rather than garish and overwrought.

His affection for this musical style comes through as well. Many fans of bands such as Steely Dan, Chicago, and Michael McDonald object to the term yacht rock and are justified in doing so. It’s a sub-genre that has often suffered from critical repute. In Doug Kistner’s hands, however, it is sophisticated pop for adult listeners, nothing more, nothing less. It embodies the best qualities of those acts while maintaining its own individuality. It’s a winner in every way.

Sebastian Cole