On the heels of 2022’s hit single, “Small Town America,” Danny Roberts — best known as a founder of and mandolinist for bluegrass powerhouse, The Grascals — returns with a somber meditation that takes its place in a long line of powerful country and bluegrass songs reflecting the hard, dangerous working life of underground coal miners.
“‘How I Live, How I’ll Die’ started off as a Monroe-style instrumental that I had written several years ago,” Roberts recalls. “I really liked the melody and decided it would actually be well-suited for a vocal song, and it just felt like it should be about coal mining. I’ve never worked in a coal mine, but I have a good friend that grew up in West Virginia in a mining family, and my wife’s family is from Southwest Virginia with a coal mining legacy and the lyrics came from the stories that I heard from them. I basically had the song written but felt like there was just something missing so I sent it to my friend and great songwriter, Daryl Mosley, and he added just what I felt like the song needed. ‘How I Live, How I’ll Die’ has a bit of a spooky, lonesome sound and feel and I believe that’s exactly what it’s like living a coal miner’s life.”
That lonesome sound and feel kick in with the very first notes of “How I Live, How I’ll Die,” as Roberts’ mandolin and Tony Wray’s guitar invoke the old-time brother duets that preceded and influenced bluegrass. Even when the full band joins in — Wray adding touches of banjo alongside long-time friend (and Grascals co-founder) Jimmy Mattingly’s fiddle and Andrea Roberts’ bass — the song’s minimalist accompaniment accentuates and keeps the focus squarely on the song’s fatalistic lyric and Roberts’ stoic delivery:
I’m growing old while I’m still young
And breathing death into my lungs
A life that’s short but it seems so long
One day you’re here, the next day you’re gone
If “Small Town America” explored Roberts’ appreciation of the quiet joys and warmth of one side of rural American life, “How I Live, How I’ll Die” reveals — in an offering that exemplifies the intertwining of modern creativity and traditional expression — a deeply thoughtful, multi-dimensional artist well aware of its darker side, too.
Listen to "How I Live, How I'll Die" HERE.