Music fans and critics in America often misconstrue Shakira, seeing her as nothing but a pretty face to splash across magazine covers. However, a closer look at this Colombian singer/songwriter illustrates a more accurate depiction.

Aside from writing her own lyrics -- which are eccentrically poetic in both Spanish and English - and penning and producing her own music, Shakira is a magnetic performer. Years of being one of Latin America's biggest music stars before breaking into the English-speaking market with "Laundry Service" has given Shakira a mesmerizing, physical stage presence. She flashes her expressive eyes, shakes her hips and belts her vocals with unbridled enthusiasm. Shakira is, in many ways, the "whole package" in the music industry. As Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia's Nobel laureate, so eloquently put it, "Shakira's music has a personal stamp that doesn't look like anyone else's, and no one can sing or dance like her, at whatever age, with such an innocent sensuality, one that seems to be of her own invention."

It is for this reason that Shakira's new musical release, "Live & Off the Record," is fitting. The CD features highlights from her live concert in Rotterdam, Netherlands, at the Hotel Bazar. Also included with the CD is a DVD of the complete concert. Thus, the package fully represents Shakira as an artist, and it highlights her melodic songwriting while also acknowledging her showmanship.

The album starts energetically. After an electric guitar assault, Shakira launches into her set with the Lebanese-inspired "Ojos Asi," the final track off of her second Spanish-speaking album, "Donde Estan Los Ladrones?" The complex instrumentation, which included the use of strings, gongs and Middle Eastern instruments, swirls around Shakira's throaty vocals, and the thundering drum beats of the song offer an exciting prelude for what is to come. She follows the extended version of this song with a rendition of "Si te Vas," another song off "Donde Estan Los Ladrones?," and it is not until her third song that she sings a ballad off "Laundry Service," her third, English-speaking album.

This mixing of old and new is the key to this live album's success. A set list based off of her new, English-speaking material could have capitalized on the songs that made her internationally famous. Instead, she chooses to pick songs from the broad spectrum of her career. Shakira is in the music business for the long haul, and she gives a broad overview of her work for her longtime fans while exposing her new fans to music they may have never heard before. Her earlier material, which carries a more whimsical, poetic edge than the rock-driven singles on "Laundry Service," gives her set list a sense of balance.

The one noticeable problem with Shakira's live concert is her vocals, which sometimes waver in their consistency. In the midst of her enthusiasm, she has a tendency to exaggerate her melodies, and she adds vocal flourishes where they are not appropriate. Although she is able to add a sense of tenderness to ballads such as "Underneath Your Clothes" and "Tu" with her subtle vocalization, she has an opposite, admittedly grating effect on her rendition of "Objection (Tango)." She begins the song by singing over a drumbeat, and she deliberately and repeatedly cracks her voice for emotional effect. Shakira is trying too hard to impress in situations such as these, and she undermines one of her strongest singles in the process. Other choices on the set list are not suited for a live context. Her cover of AC/DC's "Back in Black" is a letdown because her voice is not harsh enough to deliver the chorus with intensity.

These flaws aside, however, the recording of Shakira's concert in Rotterdam is a fun and sometimes moving listen. Coupled with the DVD, which shows off her sensuous stage presence as well as a backstage documentary of her tour, "Live & Off The Record" is a must-have for Shakira fans, and it may win her some new fans before her upcoming studio album hits shelves in late 2004.
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