Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines closed and opened a few doors when she made her impromptu anti-George Bush and anti-war remarks from a London stage in 2003. Stylistically, it recharged the band to aim less for country music tradition and more for the crossover pop success that always seemed within their grasp. The album’s first single, “Not Ready to Make Nice,” defiantly addresses Maines’ controversy and the title track is similarly fueled. However, Long Way is hardly an Op-Ed page set to music. Producer Rick Rubin, known for his judicious hand with country legend Johnny Cash, matches up the Chicks with songwriters outside the Nashville mainstream who collaborate with them to bring out the band’s strengths, from Crowded House power-pop expert Neil Finn (“Silent House”) to alt-country stalwart, ex-Jayhawk Gary Louris (“Everybody Knows,””Baby Hold On”) to modern bluesman Keb’ Mo’ (“I Hope”) and Sheryl Crow (“Favorite Year’). This new urbane profile jumpstarts their harmonies and adds an urgency previously unheard in their sound.

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