It'd be an understatement by half to claim that it's been a strange and surprising trip for sisters and Chicks founders Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, especially since it was latecomer lead singer Natalie Maines who got their band into trouble in the first place and whose Bush-bashing from a U.K. stage in 2003 instigated the trio's fourth disc. The Chicks have been aching since being branded traitors by their upscale-down-home base, and Taking the Long Way backs down like a lion. If the song titles are a little too on-the-nose ("Not Ready to Make Nice," the urgh-inducing "Lubbock or Leave It") and the lyrics a little too back-pattingly nyah-nyah-nyah ("Wouldn't kiss all the asses they told me to"), at least they're meandering toward the outlaw brand rather than away from it. That said, the music still likes to play frilly dress-up; it's protest music dolled up in glam black leather and beauty-shop 'dos. It doesn't take a Billboard bachelor's to figure this isn't going to get much play on country radio stations still slinging ass-kickin' anthems about colors that don't run, produced by assholes who can't sing.