'I don't have any respect for the decisions he's made and where he has led our country,' Natalie Maines, lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, said about U.S. President George W. Bush. ((AP Photo/Frank Franklin II))

The Dixie Chicks have debuted at the top of country and pop music charts in the U.S. with a new album, three years after they were vilified for publicly criticizing the U.S. president.

Taking the Long Way, released last week, is the pop-country trio's first album since2003, when lead singer Natalie Maines told a London concert she was ashamed U.S. President George W. Bush was a fellow Texan. Country radio responded by boycotting their music, the trio received death threats and their property was vandalized.

After a few years of lying low, however,the band's new albumtook the top spot on Billboard's country albums chart and the Billboard 200 overall chart on Wednesday after its first week of release. Both charts are based on sales rather than radio play.

Some in the country music establishment continue to oppose the group, including some radio programmers who have not added the new album to their playlists. However, in an interview on CNN Wednesday night, Maines says she maintains her stance against Bush.

"I don't have any respect for the decisions he's made and where he has led our country," Maines said.

New liberal-minded fans for the Chicks?

There could be many reasons for the strong sales, Wade Jessen, director of Billboard's country charts, told the Associated Press.

Jessen said that perhaps the group was attracting a broader audience or that country fans were simply not as bothered by the anti-Bush comments as many originally thought.

"There also might be a certain amount of support that may have been thrown their way by folks who are a little more liberal and that maybe never bought a country album in their lives but want to show their support," he added.

It could also be that Taking the Long Way, whichincludes a song titled Not Ready to Make Nice,is now more indicative of how Americans are feeling about their president, with recent polls showing that more people are voicing criticism about his leadership.

"Why are we still killing?" Helen Thomas, long-time dean of the White House Press Corps., recalled asking at a White House briefing this week.

"[White House Press Secretary] Tony Snow said, 'We're at war.' And I want to say 'With whom?'" she told CBC News.

Number1 but still no 'Home'

Though Taking the Long Way sold 525,000 copies last week, enough to make it number 1, the sales figure is much lower than the previous Dixie Chicks studio album, 2002's Home, which sold 780,000 copies during its first week.

The band's albums also include its 1998 debut Wide Open Spaces and 1999's Fly.

Some believe that the Dixie Chicks are moving away from a country music base, especially since the band enlisted rock producer Rick Rubin to work on the new album.

Rubin is best known for his work with hip hop, heavy metal and rock musicians, including the Beastie Boys, Run-D.M.C., Slayer and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He also founded American Records and produced the final, acclaimed crossover albums by Johnny Cash.