Artist Spotlight: J.R. & the Strangers, A-Z


An exciting rock bill took place at Bremen Cafe Thursday evening, bringing out a crowd of fans and friends. Wisconsin-based folk duo Oxbow and Moor, and Milwaukee-based J.R. & the Strangers and A-Z each brought their own flavor of energy.

J.R. & the Strangers consists of vocalist/bassist Justin Jagler, guitarist Jake Stanzer, vocalist/guitarist Ryan Neale, and percussionist Lee Gray. Formed a little over a year ago, the project delivers a blend of roots rock, outlaw folk, Americana, and neo-western psychedelia. Their debut self-titled record came out last month.

“We went to National Recording down in Walker’s Point…really great guys there,” Jagler said about their record. “They took the time to care about the songs, which really meant a lot to us. We’re really proud of the result. There’s some themes of adventure, violence, and redemption; it’s outlaw music in a way. The lead single is “Lucifer”…that song came together from me bringing it to the band one night and we just kept practicing it for like two hours straight. We knew right away it was a song that would stay.”

Jagler talks a bit about what the band is working on now.

“We’re working on setting up a busy spring and summer, playing. We’re gonna be doing a few festivals and be announcing that stuff soon. We’ll have another album before the year’s over.”

J.R. & the Strangers play Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel on February 29th, Amplified Artist Sessions on March 12th, and Riverwest Roots Revival at Linneman’s on April 4th.

A-Z consists of vocalist/guitarist Ezekiel Kelderman, guitarist Anthony Gonzalez, bassist Dave Bardsley, drummer Aaron Miller, and keyboardist Will Matthews (their most recent addition). They could be described as a psychedelic rock band infused with elements of funk, prog, and jam. Although they have been a band since 2017, they have yet to record.

“We’re working on it!,” Kelderman said. “We’re actually getting our first couple tracks pumped out now. We spent a lot of our first two years as a band communally pooling our money that we’d take from shows, and putting that into the equipment that we would need to record our songs. Hopefully we’ll get them done in the next couple weeks here – all in-house.”

They have a friend that comes to their shows and energetically dances their whole set, making for quite a spectacle.

“That’s Finnegan…he’s nuts dude. We had rehearsals in our apartment and he asked us if we minded if he danced around while we rehearsed, and I was like “please, go ahead.” He started doing it – not interfering with anybody – and I was thought what this kid does is like his own thing and you can’t beat that. He breaks so many barriers. He doesn’t play but he dances, so we’d say he’s with us. All the perks we get, he gets.”

A-Z hope to play more outdoor shows this year.

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