Verona, New Jersey’s Doug Kistner is one of those versatile all-around ringers top shelf musical artists ordinarily recruit to help realize their vision. His long trip through the world of popular music has earned him spots alongside important artists such as Blood Sweat and Tears, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Danny Seraphine, and former Bad English and The Babys’ front man John Waite. His keyboard playing skills are only part of an overall package; Kistner is an outstanding multi-instrumentalist and vocalist. His first forays into the solo world, singles such as “Only Road I Know” and “Since We Left Our Dreams”, have earned him considerable plaudits. His newest release, a single entitled “Don’t Look Down”, is his finest outing yet as a solo performer and further burnishes his already pristine reputation.
Nothing is left to chance during this song. It has limited instrumentation, this isn’t a song that needed six or seven distinct players, but each element of the arrangement seamlessly weaves and locks into the other. The arrangement doesn’t carry the bulk of the song’s melodic content; it’s, instead, Kistner’s singing that provides that key part. His phrasing, likewise, elevates an otherwise conversational lyric. Great singers can create a sense of stakes where none previously exists and Kistner has a sterling track record in this regard. Note the rising and falling in his voice and how he orchestrates the highs and lows to compliment the arrangement while still being capable of standing on its own. Kistner clearly began recording this track knowing exactly how to put it all together.
He’s lumped into the category of “yacht rock”, artists like Steely Dan, Michael McDonald, and Chicago, but really, it’s just AOR, adult-oriented rock, and tailored for mass consumption. It’s a track pressing against you, but never too hard, from the beginning – you can sense an imperative behind this track that holds your attention throughout. The language is plain-spoken, yes, but the intelligence presiding over these lyrics is another aspect of the track separating it from Kistner’s contemporaries. He isn’t attempting to remake the songwriting wheel with this track, but it isn’t a rote cookie cutter pop confection.
It isn’t possible to say what prompts someone to step out to the front of the stage at this point in their careers. Falling social restrictions and an ebbing pandemic aside, touring musicians and their ilk face a more uncertain future than ever before. Perhaps Kistner adopted a “now or never” mentality; you can definitely hear it suggested by his approach to “Don’t Look Down”.
This song is the sound of an inspired musical artist eager to share their work with the world at large, not a talented dilettante unenthusiastically testing the waters. You can hear his passion for this performance in every line and it adds immeasurably to its atmosphere. 2021, like 2020, is an unavoidably memorable year, but songs the caliber of “Don’t Look Down” make it even more so. Let’s hope Kistner receives the recognition he’s due and continues putting out first class material such as this.
by Bethany Page