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The Great Western Review - The Observer - ★★★★☆

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The Manics' frontman's solo debut is a hymn to his formative

influences. Sarah Boden goes into the valleys

James Dean Bradfield's dad wanted to call him Clint Eastwood, a name that would have given a distinctive lone cowboy twang to the doughty Welshman's debut. When his band, the Manics, decided to take a two-year hiatus last summer, the gifted musical workaholic was left with time to fill.

While The Great Western has widescreen appeal, Bradfield hasn't been corralled into unexpected country-blues territory. Instead, he draws inspiration from Wales's deep south. His stylistic cues are fellow countrymen John Cale and the perennially unfashionable Badfinger singer Pete Ham . As for the title, it refers to Isambard Kingdom Brunel's railway, the steel vein that runs from Paddington to Brad-fi eld's precious homeland. The result is a vintage construction of bold songs that are, by turns, soaring, muscular and

emotive, while being lyrically more direct than the Manics.

Riddled with hiraeth (a uniquely Welsh type of homesickness), Bradfield nods to the people and places that have been formative in his life. The moving eEnglish Gentleman' is about the

Manics' late mentor Philip Hall, who nurtured the band when they were still punk pretenders, while the downbeat lollop of eWrong Beginning' seems to be an oblique testimonial to missing bandmate Richey Edwards and his obsession with perfection.

Grown-up and expansive, The Great Western harks back to the barnstorming greatness of the Manics' 1996 set Everything Must

Go. If it's hardly breaking new ground, the music is still a potent showcase for Bradfield's talents .