This album had a strange genesis. Lee Cantelon invited a number of artists to read his modern-day translation of Christ's utterances, The Words, at a studio on Exposition Boulevard (hence the album's title), but when Jones arrived, she asked to sing instead, and made up two improvisations on the spot: the opener, "Nobody Knows My Name" and the spoken-word piece "Where I Like it Best". Further improvisations followed ("Donkey Ride" and "I Was There"), and from there, the album itself.
It would be wrong, however, to consider this Jones's equivalent of Dylan's late-1970s evangelicism; like Cantelon's book, this is made as much for unbelievers as the devout, and when it works, as on the aforementioned "Where I Like it Best" it packs a considerable punch. Unfortunately, like its ultimate source, it also frequently commits the sin of being rather dull. The semi-improvised nature of the recording sessions seems to have lead Jones's band meandering down a number of musical cul-de-sacs ("Nobody Knows My Name", "Road To Emmaus" and "I Was There"), while other tracks are either awkwardly literal ("Gethsemane") or overly reminiscent of better work elsewhere ("Tried To Be A Man" and "Seventh Day"). However, it's by no means a disaster: near-pop songs "Falling Up", "It Hurts", "Circle In The Sand" and "Elvis Cadillac" all showcase Jones's considerable strengths, and her singing is superb throughout, perhaps the one element to really benefit from the album's ramshackle approach.
Lacking the classicism and diversity she showed on Evening of My Best Day, the emotional directness of Traffic from Paradise or the transcendent weirdness of Ghostyhead, The Sermon is, at best, a mildly diverting b-road, and probably the weakest album of her career thus far, considering her dizzyingly high standards. Most disappointingly, the album only murkily evokes the figure of Christ, holding the listener at something of a distance. Better to read, say, The Master and Margarita in order to bring the 2000-year old Jesus of Nazareth back to life.