Thirty years into his recording career, the biggest question surrounding Robert Cray is no longer whether he's an honest-to-goodness bluesman or a slick interloper but whether he's got anything new to offer. Cookin' in Mobile, a CD/DVD package recorded earlier this year at that city's Saenger Theatre, is Cray's third live album since 2006 (one of them taken from a 1987 show), a sequence broken only by one studio release that made little impact.
If he has fresh material to share, Cray's in no hurry to unveil it. Live, however, he can remind us that he's a formidable guitarist and convincing frontman. From the evidence gathered here, he hasn't changed much since his '80s heyday — two of the best tracks are reprised from the '86 career high Strong Persuader — but there's no reason to think he needs to. His is an amiable brand of blues, palatable enough for mass consumption but still meaty enough to satisfy a more demanding segment of the blues audience.
His cover of the relic "Sitting on Top of the World" doesn't come close to approaching the raunch level of Howlin' Wolf's or the psychedelic intensity of Cream's, but he does the song justice in his own way. And the opening "Our Last Time" and the three tracks adapted from that last studio set straddle the line between good-natured, innuendo-injected party music and the authenticity craved by purists.