The acoustic-oriented performances one hears on the show MTV Unplugged have a nice way of separating the men from the boys and the women from the girls. When artists go acoustic -- or at least semi-acoustic -- on that program, they can't hide behind decibels and amps or try to win you over with volume for the sake of volume. They become exposed and vulnerable, which is a good thing if they have solid material, strong vocals, and genuine talent to offer -- although it isn't so good if they are lacking in those areas. Shakira, not surprisingly, emerged triumphant when she appeared on MTV Unplugged, and this 2000 release is a fine document of that appearance. Mainly performing songs from 1999's Dónde Están los Ladrones?, Shakira demonstrates that she doesn't need studio gloss to sound great. Are her studio albums full of slickness and studio gloss? Absolutely. But ultimately, the thing that does the most to enrich Dónde Están los Ladrones? and 2001's Laundry Service isn't the albums' shiny, attractive production -- it is great vocals and great songwriting. "Si Te Vas," "Moscas en la Casa," "No Creo," and other Latin pop/rock gems lose nothing when Shakira unplugs; in fact, the Columbian vocalist really shines in an intimate, acoustic-oriented live setting. This more intimate environment tends to isolate the lyrics, which is certainly a plus when Shakira is performing something as poetic as the Arabic-influenced "Ojos Así." Of course, those who don't speak Spanish won't be discussing the lyrics of "Ojos Así" or any of the other tracks; this CD preceded Shakira's first English-language effort, Laundry Service, and came at a time when she was still recording in Spanish exclusively. But regardless of whether or not one understands Spanish, MTV Unplugged is an excellent live album. ~ Alex Henderson, Rovi

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