Of the legions of artists and characters to emerge in the great alt-rock explosion of the '90s, the man called E is one of the oddest, partially because he's etched a career that is both doggedly obstinate and strangely predictable. Throughout his career, E has followed his muse wherever it takes him -- it just happens to take him to places that seem familiar. Just as the alt-rock circus kicked off in 1992, he released A Man Called (E) to little more than power pop acclaim, but once he formed an ad-hoc band called the Eels in 1996, he gained a hit with "Novocaine for the Soul" and earned a cult following that he sustained into the 21st century when, once again, he was a one-man band, only this time retaining the commercial cache (or at least recognition) that came with the Eels' name. His 2003 effort, Shootenanny!, is the first where he doesn't make much of a pretense of this being a band affair -- the notes say it's "performed by Mark Oliver Everett (you can call him 'E')" -- and it does not seem like a coincidence that it's also his best album since his dark night of the soul, 1998's Electro-Shock Blues. In many ways, it's a lot more listenable, since the doom that hangs over that album makes it a little impenetrable. This has a sour temper and a black humor, as well as a general sense of self-satisfied gloominess, but he's more tongue-in-cheek about it these days, as the impish title suggests. This record isn't folky, the way hootenannies were, but it does have a strong blues and singer/songwriter element to the record. Since he's been saddled with this comparison countless times, it feels both trite and unfair to say he often sounds like Beck on Shootenanny!, but he does -- he sounds like a combination of Beck and Tom Waits, put through a power pop prism. So, even if it isn't entirely original, it is an appealing sound, but E has turned into a good editor, trimming away his excesses, emphasizing both his hooks and his atmosphere, and bringing it all in at 40 minutes. It's not as poppy as some of his other albums, but it is more focused and appealing, and one of the stronger testaments to his ornery talents.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine