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Stephenson, Penley headline museum 're-opening' event

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Albany native Ray Stephenson, who has written songs that were recorded by a number of legendary country artists, will combine his musical skills and his artistic talents in a fundraiser at the Albany Museum of Art Aug. 15.

Special photo Albany native Ray Stephenson, who has written songs that were recorded by a number of legendary country artists, will combine his musical skills and his artistic talents in a fundraiser at the Albany Museum of Art Aug. 15.

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Special photo Ray Stephenson, who will be part of a cancer benefit at the Albany Museum of Art Aug. 15, uses rock icons such as Jimi Hendrix as subjects of his artwork.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Albany native son Ray Stephenson has already gotten Music City’s attention by penning tunes that have been recorded by the likes of country legend Kris Kristofferson and husband/wife superstars Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert.

And now one of Stephenson’s other artistic talents has landed him the unofficial/official title of painter in residence on the Monsters of Rock Cruise.

Hometown friends and fans will have an opportunity to enjoy both of Stephenson’s substantial talents Aug. 15 when he performs in concert at the Albany Museum of Art and showcases his paintings of rock music icons to help “re-open” the museum at a Cancer Coalition of South Georgia benefit.

Also helping show off the renovations at the new-look museum will be Georgia-born artist Steve Penley, whose iconic paintings will go on display in the museum’s Haley Gallery for a run through Oct. 26.

“This is something I’ve been doing lately, bringing my paintings to gigs I’m playing,” Stephenson, an Albany High School and Valdosta State University graduate, said in a phone interview. “I majored in painting and sculpture in college, and I’ve created a whole line of music-inspired art in recent months. I did a lot of it as official painter on the Monsters of Rock Cruise.

“Me being a visual artist, doing this offers me a way to combine my two loves: music and art. I basically work on my art during the day and do my music at night. I get great balance from the two: Painting helps me relax after the high energy of playing on the road.”

Stephenson has had plenty to keep himself busy. Since returning from the latest Monsters of Rock Cruise, he’s completed a solo album (“Freedom”) and is “about 80 percent done” with his first album (tentatively titled “Medicine Man”) with his new band, The Revival.

All this coming during a year when projects for which he’d written songs — “Heroes” and “Rain in Durango” for a tribute album honoring legendary artist Guy Clark and the title track to Shelton’s “Red River Blue,” which was sung by the superstar and Lambert — received Grammy nominations, and notification that work has begun on a video for a song Stephenson wrote five years ago as a tribute to Willie Nelson (“Willie’s Guitar”). That tune was shelved by a record-industry business casualty but has been revived by Nelson, Merle Haggard and Jon Anderson.

“Freedom” joins earlier Stephenson solo albums “Gravity” and “Gunned Down in Mexico” in the singer/songwriter’s discography.

Perhaps even bigger news for Stephenson is taking place north of the border in Canada. “Leaning on a Lonesome Song,” a tune he wrote with best friend Buddy Owens and Gord Bamford and recorded by Bamford, is up for seven Canadian Country Music Awards, including Song of the Year, Single of the Year and Songwriter of the Year for the trio.

“Lonesome” also went to No. 1 in five European countries and reached the top of the European Country Singles chart.

“This is the first song I’ve been a part of writing that’s been a hit without being tied to a publisher,” Stephenson said of the single. “I don’t know if it will be released (in the U.S.), but I am going to include it on my new album with The Revival.”

Penley, meanwhile, has emerged as one of America’s most popular Southern artists. His work “True Color: Mediations on the American Spirit, An Artist’s Response to 9/11” has toured the globe as part of an exhibit organized by the Washington, D.C. Meridian Center. The artist was recognized by the Georgia State Senate for his selection as official artist of the 2004 G-8 Summit, held at the state’s Sea Island.

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Special photo This painting of reggae legend Bob Marley was created by Albany-born singer/songwriter/artist Ray Stephenson, who has been named “official artist” on the annual Monsters of Rock Cruise.

“Steve’s artwork has been on exhibit at the Albany Museum of Art before, and it was extremely popular,” AMA Director of Marketing Cristin Kirbo said. “His huge iconic canvases are so impressive.”

Tickets for the Aug. 15 fundraiser, which will run from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., will be $10 for museum members and $15 for non-members. All proceeds will help fund a joint AMA/Cancer Coalition of South Georgia art therapy initiative for cancer patients and survivers.

Also performing during the event, which will include light snacks and cocktails, are musicians Jodi Mann and Ryan West. Mann will perform at 5:30 p.m., West at 6:15 p.m. and Stephenson from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.