In 2018 Montreal-based jazz artist Dominique Fils-Aimé released the first album of a trilogy exploring the shifting genres and experiences of African-American history and culture. The blues-inspired Nameless explored African sounds that morphed into the blues during enslavement. The Juno Award-nominated Stay Tuned! (2019) addressed racial violence and injustice, along with Black empowerment and uplift by way of the Civil Rights movement. On Three Little Words, the series closer, the singer-songwriter plays with doo-wop (Fils-aimé overdubs back-up harmonies for the whole album) and soul, then shifts into more sensual iterations before moving into a modern sound that’s ambiguous, freer, and difficult to pigeonhole because of the inclusion of lighter pop and indie-rock elements.
The rich weariness in Fils-Aimé’s voice lends her music natural gravity, as her lyrics explore the aftermath of political and personal unrest—mourning, grace, trauma, and healing. Album opener “Grow Mama,” a personal-empowerment anthem intended to rouse, feels at odds with her elegant vocals and never quite amps up to the song’s buoyant proclamations. After two doo-wop songs, the music shifts into a fresh, eclectic direction with “Could It Be.” Here Fils-Aimé sounds grounded in her own expression of soul via seductive horns, stirring percussion, and basslines that expand the sound, allowing the album to take flight.
“Three Little Words,” filled with percussive rhythms and grit, stirs in a way the opener does not. “Give it All you Got” begins with her signature layered-harmonizing but then blossoms into a smoldering track about taking back one’s power. “Being the Same” is a light, moving lullaby of sorts that sounds perfect for a film soundtrack. A standout in an already stirring album, “Love Takes Over” may be the album's strongest sound and manifesto: “Feeling the waves that might seem random / Raising empires based on Wisdom / Taking over is never random / Nurturing the ways that led to Wisdom.”
Though inspired by the African-American experience, this clever album is open to different interpretations: some listeners may feel heartbreak, some may feel love and redemption, while others may be inspired to transform the world. Any reaction to Three Little Words is guaranteed to feel as personal and illuminating as the album itself.