‘Auctioneer (Another Engine)’ - Fables of the Reconstruction
Fables of the Reconstruction/Reconstruction of the Fables (1985) slows down and goes southern. After two albums produced by Mitch Easter and Don Dixon, they went to modern folk producer Joe Boyd, in London.
The title and its inversion on the sleeve point to two themes: storytelling and myth and worldbuilding, and the Reconstruction Era but more broadly the South, the gothic, ghostly South. The storytelling songs have a town-based sense to them, too, with outsider artist Howard Finster in ‘Maps and Legends’, the eccentric town legends in ‘Old Man Kensey’ and ‘Wendell Gee’. ‘Good Advices’ and ‘Life and How to Live It’ are like odd siblings, one about manners and wise judgement, the other about a schizophrenic man who splits his house down the centre, but both manuals for living, both at a remove from the world.
‘Driver 8’ and ‘Auctioneer (Another Engine)’ are both train-related and sound at a remove from the modern world, too. ‘Driver 8’ takes in the construction of the rural landscape as well as the journey through it, and hard work away from home. ‘Can’t Get There From Here’ is on the road too - “Philomath is where I’m going” managing to sound abstract and grand as well as literally being a town in Georgia, scraps of the world around them strung together into lyrics. It also appears to be sung by Stipe in the most marked accent of any of the band’s songs.
‘Auctioneer’ is propulsive, building momentum, leaving mementos behind and getting out of town, and it would read like a road song about escape if you didn’t stop to catch “listen to the bargain holler/listen to the barter holler/listen to the auctioneer”, adding frantic terror like a fire sale before going on the run. There isn’t a destination, just a very rapid exit, and the progression of the song would convey this even if the words weren’t heightening it.
The album opens with strings and closes with banjo, and there’s a close, intimate, layered quality to the songs that’s caught between their early period and the next move to songs cast wide open.