Fifth voice

From left, Fine Spirits members Chris Zuniga, Carl Reinelt, Ted Talbott and Pete Shambo rehearse Thursday evening in Reinelt’s garage. The a cappella quartet recently released its first album. 

As they circle in tune and posture, the four friends are at it again: Making music in a musty garage.

Armed with Scotch, an insatiable passion for harmony and rare human pipes, they warm into the night’s rehearsal.

Fine Spirits, an a cappella quartet, will perform Thursday at Café Malaga in downtown McKinney. They’ll tout their first-ever album, “Happy Hour,” an eclectic mix that stands for their similar hodge-podge makeup and mastery.

“It’s about really listening,” says Pete Shambo, a baritone who joined the group four years ago. “You’re not four soloists.”

His point resounds as they exhale into Joyce Eilers’ “Bound for Jubilee,” a short but powerful arrangement. Their voices glide in, out and around each other, then crescendo together.

They smile with content, taking sips of their won fine spirits, and inhale for the next piece. For Ted Talbott, the youngest and most pedigreed of the group, it’s a familiar and necessary release.

“We have more freedom to tinker with songs and make them unique to us,” says Talbott, a former elementary music teacher now pursuing a career in IT. “It’s a different, interesting dynamic.”

Choral beginnings

Fine Spirits has always been four guys. Original members sang together in the choir at St. Gabriel’s Parish in McKinney.

Carl Reinelt, the group’s lead, and Chris Zuniga, its high tenor, remain. Shambo and Talbott have joined along the way, replacing former members who moved on. Zuniga is a database administrator, Schambo in telecommunications.

“Everybody’s got to have a passion,” says Zuniga, the self-proclaimed upper range of the four. “I get all the high parts.”

Many nights – up to three a week near a performance – the fellas practice in Reinelt’s “cave,” a lit-up garage with stools, microphones and a table for drinks. They sing their lungs out with ease and precision.

As tunes carry around the area, their set and venue list grows. They perform about 25 times a season, from early spring through Christmas. Along with coffeeshops and restaurants, they sing the National Anthem and “God Bless America” at baseball games and horse races; they’re an annual act at Lone Star Park.

No matter the venue, the nervous energy is there, Reinelt says. It builds until the first note, every time.

“You count into the piece, take your final breath, and as soon as you release, you’re into it,” he says. “It’s exhilarating.”

Hard work is the only secret to success, they say, though rehearsals don’t amp up until weeks before a gig. They have their lives apart, and their melody together.

“I’m just a lover of music,” says Shambo, the most animated during songs. “I really like the sound of harmonies.”

Provocative sound

Scratched across “Happy Hour” is the album’s formation: “3 nights in July four friends gather at a studio to make music; their only instrument – the human voice.”

That studio was in the home of Zuniga’s friend, a guy trying to break into sound engineering. Used to Reinelt’s garage, they rattled off eight songs the first night.

“We realized we had a lot of material in our repertoire,” Reinelt says. “We had no idea how it would sound.”

They found out three nights straight, mixing and matching chorally and technically like never before. The result: Fine Spirits’ twist on numbers by Freddie Mercury, Van Morrison and John Lennon, among others.

Akin to a happy hour gathering where strangers descend on a jukebox, the album has a little something for everyone and every occasion, from party to wake.

It’s available on the group’s website and iTunes, but members will just sell it locally. It’s simply a way for people to hear their sound, which Shambo says is an expanding niche.

“It’s on a resurgence,” he says of A cappella. “It’s not mainstream, but I think it’s really on a popularity rise.”

At least enough to keep the group busy. Upon them is a summer’s worth of outdoor bookings, which for now seem to suit the guys, who prefer home hangouts over stuffy studios.

They chime into the Beatles’ “Little Help From My Friends,” in full rhythm now. Even Reinelt’s sheltie pauses to listen.

Afterward, Zuniga says another album isn’t out of the question. Fine Spirits is a passion, but one further fueled with every applause.

He once guessed they’d be at the Meyerson Symphony Center someday, to friends’ lighthearted laughs. Four guys in a garage at DFW’s premier performance hall seemed ridiculous.

“We’re on track to become a professionally recorded group,” Zuniga says. “We could do it.”

For local news updates, follow Chris Beattie on Twitter

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