The third album from this Irish group presents more of what they do best -- adequate renditions of traditional songs, a few covers of classic pieces offset by a handful of sappy original compositions. To their credit, though, the Whole Shabang! actually offers a slight change of personality on the Ewan McColl classic "Dirty Old Town" as a jazzy, swing rhythm finds its way into the song which proves that you can teach an old dog new tricks. And the Gay Brazel/Pete St. John co-authored "The Streets of Belfast" sounds like it was written by (or for) Simon Nicol of Fairport Convention. Predictable singalong ditties are littered throughout this album, including the Beatles' "Can't Buy Me Love," which prevents any of this album's few highlights from elevating this record to anything above acceptable status. Pete St. John's gentle "Ca Bhfuil Na Paisti" (sung in Irish Gaelic) is another thoughtful and uncharacteristic piece, as is the instrumental "Mad Cow Set." Finally, the Whole Shabang! takes another whack at a Steve Earle track, and their rendition of "Copperhead Road" ranks among their finest of several covers on their three albums to date. Although inconsistent in several regards, A Mad Hatters Ball ranks as this group's best release.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Sleger