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Best Pop Album

September 12, 2000

Toma Ketama!: KETAMA

During the '80s, this Spanish group introduced a new style of flamenco-pop to the world, maintaining the fire of the original genre while toying with rock and salsa elements. The experiment was embraced by fans of world music, opening the door for dozens of other groups such as Alabina and Radio Tarifa to create similar fusions. Ketama's latest was produced by rock en espanol veteran Cachorro Lopez, and includes a vocal cameo by Caetano Veloso on the sensuous "Kanela y Menta." It's a guiltlessly palatable sound that brings to mind the superficial thrills of an extended summer vacation by the Mediterranean.

MTV Unplugged: MANA

The unplugged setting makes this Mexican supergroup sound less like the rock en espanol outfit it sometimes tries to be and more like the solid pop band it really is. The acoustic make-over enriches the quartet's sound with live strings, female vocals and percolating percussion. Attempting to show extra depth, Mana included a few unexpected covers, such as a respectful version of Juan Gabriel's "Se Me Olvido Otra Vez" and a poignant take on Ruben Blades' politically charged "Desapariciones." These offbeat choices showcase the more sensitive side of a group known mostly for its arena rock bravado.

Amarte es un placer: LUIS MIGUEL

Unlike the majority of Latin pop stars who change their style according to the trends of the times or rush to record albums in English with the hope of crossover success, Miguel has pretty much remained the same for the last decade and a half. His biggest contribution to Latin music was to revive the bolero format through three hugely successful collections of standards he put out during the '90s. This effort finds the Mexican crooner returning to original material, most of it self-penned. There are some upbeat numbers, but Miguel excels at the type of intensely passionate ballad that melts the hearts of female fans.

Vengo naciendo: PABLO MILANES

It's about time the U.S. gets a chance to discover one of Cuba's most outstanding singer-songwriters and a founding pillar of the revolutionary musical movement known as "nueva trova." Milanes' biggest gift is his ability to materialize tender poetry out of the simplest words. Even if you don't speak Spanish, his melodies alone are mesmerizing, conveying their composer's desire to strip himself of all pretensions and offer a slice of naked emotion to the world. He belongs to a select group of pop veterans who haven't lost an iota of inspiration, even though they have released countless records in the last three decades.

MTV Unplugged: SHAKIRA

Considering that her concerts are light-years ahead of her studio output in energy and rock 'n' roll grit, it makes perfect sense that the Colombian singer would release a live album so early in her career, even if this session virtually duplicates the contents of her previous studio record, "Donde Estan los Ladrones?" The acoustic vibe of the performance and Shakira's gutsy delivery turn audience favorites such as "Octavo Dia" and the Middle East-flavored "Ojos Asi" into electrifying affairs. Fortunately, the recording includes some of Shakira's stage chatter, proving that fame hasn't affected her down-to-earth persona.

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